Sunday, June 3, 2018

Raritan Township paid out $200,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 3, 2017, Raritan Township (Hunterdon County) agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Florida man who said police attacked him after he drove to the scene where officers had pulled over and harassed his daughter.

In his lawsuit, Dennis Shuman claimed that on August 5, 2012, after he came to the scene of his daugther Alexa's traffic stop, Officer David Carson "threw him with great force against the hood of his patrol car" when Shuman tried to call the police chief about Raritan Police allegedly harassing and intimidating Alexa.  He said that Carson then "threw him to the ground and continued to beat and attack him" while other officers joined in or failed to intervene.  Shuman claimed that he was falsely arrested for Obstruction of the Administration of Justice and Resisting Arrest and that Chief Glenn Tabasko and Lieutenant Nicklas Buck conducted an Internal Affairs investigation into the matter that was "a sham and a farce."

Shuman claimed that he came to his daughter's aid because she had been continuously harassed and intimidated by Officers Carson and Aaron Roth.  He said that between June and August 2012, Carson, Roth and other Raritan officers would "make U-turns and follow Alexa Shuman without stopping her and that on six occasions the officers "passed the driveway of Alexa Shuman's home with flashing lights and sirens activated after which they were deactivated."  He said that officers would pull over his daughter for offenses including making a "too quick right turn," "touch[ing] the white line" and "turning without the appropriate turn signal."

According to the lawsuit, one of the traffic stops resulted in a drug possession arrest of one of Alexa's companions.  According to an August 10, 2014 Courier News article on the matter, Alexa, two months prior to the August 2012 stop, "was charged twice in one week for possession of marijuana under 50 grams."  The Courier News article contains a video of the traffic stop and the altercation between officers and Shuman.

Shuman said that after his daughter called him from the scene of the August 5, 2012 traffic stop he "travelled by car several minutes to the scene" because he was concerned for his daughter's safety.  Upon arrival, he started crossing the street to speak with Carson when the officer ordered him back to his car because was "in an active roadway."  Shuman claimed that when he "began to obey and was walking back across the street" he was at the same time calling Chief Tabasko on his cell phone.  It was at this point that Carson allegedly grabbed Shuman by the arm and threw him against the hood of the patrol car and then to the ground while shouting "stop resisting!"  When Alexa exited her car to aid her father, Carson reportedly told her to "get back in the car or you're next."  A short while later, Roth and Sergeant Scott Lessig arrived at the scene and pinned Shuman to the ground.

Shuman said that Lessig applied the handcuffs too tightly and refused to loosen them, causing injury. He also said that his encounter with police caused several tears in the left retina, a chipped fracture of the left elbow and nerve damage to his left hand and arm.

Shuman said that on the advice of his attorney he pled guilty to the obstruction charge in municipal court but obtained a "civil reservation" that prevented the civil court from using his plea against him.

The lawsuit is is captioned Shuman v. Raritan Township, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03658 and Shuman's attorney is Shelley L. Stangler of Springfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

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 Raritan or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shuman $200,000 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.