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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Spring Lake Heights pays $7,500 to settle police brutality suit

Issue Detail:

On January 17, 2010, the Borough of Spring Lake Heights (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Belmar man who sued members of the Spring Lake Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him. The officers named in the suit are Patrolmen Andrew O'Neil, Douglas Mayer, Christopher Bennett, Edward Gunnell and Sergeant Barry Johnstone. In his suit, Joseph Dellago said that on July 14, 2007, at 12:26 a.m., he was "wrongfully pulled out of his vehicle" by Patrolman O'Neil. He said that O'Neil "put his foot or knee on [his] neck and head area and was pushing his head into the macadam." He said that another officer "kicked [him] very hard in the testicles while [he] was lying prone on the ground after having been handcuffed." The case is captioned Dellago v. Spring Lake Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv--4231 and Dellago's attorney was Edward A. Genz of Brick. Case documents are on-line here. None of Dellago's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Spring Lake Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Spring Lake Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dellago $7,500 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. ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS. I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. John Paff Somerset, New Jersey




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