On January 28, 2014, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local man who sued members of the Atlantic City Police Department for allegedly stopping and detaining him without probable cause.
In his suit, Jonathan Preston said that on June 16, 2011, he was driving a car in which three other African American men were passengers when he was pulled over by Atlantic City Police Officer Michele Zanes, who is Caucasian. He claims Zanes told all four men to drop what [they] were doing and put [their] hands up" when she approached the car and accused Preston of "getting smart with her" and threatened to take him to jail.
Zanes then allegedly asked Preston for his social security number. Instead of speaking it in front of the others, Preston opted to write it down on a piece of paper and give it to Zanes. According to Preston's lawsuit, "at this point, approximately 12 back-up officers in cars and on motorcycles had arrived at the scene of the stop."
Zanes then allegedly accused Preston of giving her the wrong social security number and asked him to leave his vehicle with his hands up. Zanes then patted Preston down and handcuffed him, allegedly "for her protection, and that of the other officers."
According to the complaint, Howard Mason, another officer who knew Preston's mother, said that Preston did not belong in handcuffs and released him.
When Preston asked Zanes why he had pulled him over, she allegedly "laughed and responded that he had a dim tail light." Yet, he claimed that he was never issued a summons or warning during his ninety-minute detention.
Preston alleged that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Zanes which resulted her her being disciplined.
The case is captioned Preston v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03695 and Preston's attorney was David J. Azotea of Atlantic City. Case documents are on-line here.
None of Preston's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Preston $50,000 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.