On June 22, 2009, Sau Fong Lam of New York City, accepted $4,000 from the City of Paterson as full settlement of her lawsuit against Passaic County Jail officials, the City of Paterson, Paterson Police Officer Quaema McElveen and other unnamed Paterson officers. According to Timothy J. Cunningham, Esq., Passaic County’s Deputy County Administrator, “the County of Passaic did not contribute to any financial settlement with” Ms. Lam.

The incident that gave rise to the suit occurred on August 17, 2008 at a Paterson residence that the New Majestic Restaurant Buffet of Wayne provides as sleeping quarters for its restaurant staff. According to Lam’s lawsuit, she shared a bedroom with Li Ni when the two women began arguing. Ni allegedly asked a third woman, named Ping and who was proficient in English, “to call 911 and make a false report that Sau Fong Lam had assaulted her.” Ping allegedly placed the call after receiving permission from New Majestic’s owner to call 911.

Officer McElveen responded to the call and allegedly arrested and handcuffed Lam without an arrest warrant and despite Ni having no visible injuries to suggest that she had been assaulted. While she was at the police station, Lam claimed an unnamed officer shut a door on her left hand causing her to scream out in pain. She further alleged that the officer did not release her hand from the door until after she apologized for screaming out.

Further, Lam alleges that when she was taken to the emergency room for treatment of her hand, she was given a prescription a pain medication that Paterson officers would not allow her to fill. She claims to have been held in jail overnight and was not allowed access to the prescribed pain medication.

Finally, she claims that the assault charges against her were dismissed on October 9, 2008 for lack of prosecution.

The case is captioned Lam v. Passaic County et al, Case No. 2:08-cv-05598-JAG-MCA. Lam’s lawyer was Peter L. Quan of New York, NY. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Lam’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $4,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Paterson and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Lam and her lawyer $4,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Paterson’s 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 Paterson 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.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]