New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project: Lawnside Police Sergeant and Patrolman settle discipline suit with Borough
In agreements signed on July 15, 2009, Lawnside Police Sergeant William Plenty and Police Officer Daniel Battista settled a civil suit they had filed in July 2008 against the Borough of Lawnside and several Borough officials.
In their lawsuit (Battista et al v. Borough of Lawnside, et al, Docket No. CAM-2607-08), Plenty and Battista alleged that the Borough suspended them from duty "immediately and without pay" without affording them "an opportunity to be heard why an immediate suspension without pay was necessary." Plenty had been suspended for twenty days and Battista had been suspended for fifteen days. The pair also accused the Borough as having "never properly adopted rules and regulations for the discipline of members of the police department as required by law."
The pair, who were represented in the suit by Christopher A. Gray, Esq. of Helmer, Paul, Conley & Kasselman of Haddon Heights, sought back pay, compensatory damages, attorney fees, a purging of the incident from their personnel files and damages "compensating the Plaintiffs for emotional pain and suffering" caused by the Lawnside officials.
The suspensions arose out of Plenty's and Battista's enforcement of the Borough's curfew ordinance against six juveniles in the early morning hours of January 27, 2008. According to police investigation records, after taking the juveniles to the police station, Plenty inexplicably "grabbed" one of the male juveniles, "and kissed him on his forehead while they were in the hallway of police headquarters." According to police records, the kissing incident was caught on video, which was reviewed by Lieutenant Allison Turner of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Turner found that Plenty's "unwarranted and inappropriate touching" of the juvenile did not warrant criminal charges against Plenty. However, the Lawnside Police Department charged that the kissing incident was "unbecoming of an officer" and "subversive to the good order and discipline of the Department."
Plenty and Battista were also charged with improperly transporting juveniles, releasing the juveniles to people other than their parents or legal guardians (one juvenile had been released to an older sibling) and failing to inform the juveniles' parents or legal guardians that they had been detained.
The pairs' lawsuit was settled prior to trial. Both Plenty and Battista accepted a one-day suspension, a letter of reprimand in their files and agreed to take additional regarding the handling of juveniles.
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