Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Elizabeth paid out $250,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On November 13, 2017, the City Council of City of Elizabeth (Union County) resolved to pay $250,000 to settle a 2015 lawsuit filed by a Philadelphia man who claimed that several police officers beat him and that one officer "pressed his foot down on [his] face pushing it into the pavement."

In his suit, Jerome Wright claimed that he was driving in Elizabeth on June 26, 2013 when officers Rui Xavier and Luis Figueiredo pulled him over for a traffic stop.  Wright said that Xavier ordered him out of his car at gunpoint and arrested him.  He claimed that when he "made the reasonable request to know shy he was being placed under arrest," Figueiredo applied a "sustained spray" of Pepper Spray to his face.  Even though Wright said that he was submissive and compliant with the officers' commands, Xavier and Figueiredo both shot him "again in the face with a sustained burst of Pepper Spray from both sides at the same time."  Figueiredo then allegedly took Wright to the ground where Xavier kicked him in the ribs.  Wright said that the two officers then took turns pinning him to the ground with their knees while Xavier beat him with a flashlight or a nightstick. 

According to the lawsuit, Lieutenant Robert Keily, Sergeant Michael Niewinski and officers Michael Carreto and Guido Quelopana arrived on-scene.  The lieutenant and sergeant allegedly did nothing to stop Xavier's and Figueiredo's actions while Carreto and Quelopana reportedly "sprinted to join" Xavier and Figueiredo in their attack upon Wright.  Quelopana allegedly "placed his knee on the back of [Wright's] head and pushed his full weight down on [Wright's] skull while [he] laid face-down on the pavement."   According to the lawsuit, Carreto "proceeded to drop his entire weight down through one knee on to [Wright's] lower back" while another kicked Wright in the face, while Wright was handcuffed, "and pressed his foot down on [Wright's] face pushing it into the pavement."

The officers allegedly fabricated a police report to show that Wright resisted arrest and tried to elude police.

The case is captioned Wright v. City of Elizabeth, et al, Federal Case No. 2:153-cv-04429 and Wright's attorney was Michael Orozco of Woodcliff Lake.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Wright's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wright $250,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.