Saturday, March 3, 2018

Robbinsville quietly paid $100,000 to settle one claim arising out of cop's "psychotic episode" and is negotiating settlement of another.

At its January 11, 2018 meeting, the Robbinsville Township (Mercer County) Council approved a confidential $100,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by an in-home caregiver who said that a Township police sergeant "disrobed in [her clients'] apartment" and "began a violent and unprovoked attack" upon her, the disabled couple for whom she was working and the couple's four-year-old son.  The couple, who are both confined to wheelchairs, filed a separate lawsuit which, according to a March 1, 2018 e-mail from Robbinsville Municipal Clerk Michele Seigfried, has been resolved by a settlement agreement that is still in draft form and cannot be released.

The caregiver who filed suit is Bashemah Rountree and the accused police sergeant is Mark Lee who was, at the time of the September 17, 2012 incident, an 18-year veteran of the Robbinsville Police Department.  According to media reports, Lee allegedly broke into Rountree's clients' apartment, ripped off his clothes, knocked the disabled female client out of her wheelchair and assaulted the couple's child.  In her lawsuit, Rountree claimed that Lee threw her against a wall when she tried to protect the child from harm.  Another news source reported that Lee, after being taken into custody, kicked a window out of a police car and ran away only to be captured after a foot-chase.

According to a June 14, 2013 Times of Trenton article, aggravated assault, official misconduct and child endangerment charges against Lee were dropped conditioned upon Lee completing a three-year Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program.  As a further condition of being admitted to PTI, Lee had to forfeit his position as a police officer.

On May 18, 2016, Robbinsville paid $117,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Lee that claimed that Township officials failed to accommodate a disability that caused him to suffer the "psychotic episode" that led to the assault.  Lee claimed that his conduct was the result of a physical disability which prosecutors reportedly said was calcium deposits on his brain.

$12,500 of the $117,500 settlement Robbinsville paid to Lee was held in escrow to pay toward settlements or judgments that the disabled couple, their child or Rountree sought from the Township.

Rountree's lawsuit is is captioned Rountree v. Township of Robbinsville, et al, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. MER-L-1956-14 and Rountree's attorney was John G. Devlin of Lawrenceville.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rountree $100,00 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.