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-04231 and Dellago’s attorney was Edward A. Genz of Brick. The lawsuit and settlement agreement 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.

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