On January 24, 2010, the City of Asbury Park (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a local woman who sued Asbury Park Police Officer Michael Paulk for falsely arresting her.

In her suit, Lissa McQueen said that on June 30, 2008, she smelled an odor coming from a boarded-up house next door to her residence. She claimed that she knocked on the door to speak to the occupants about the odor when she was approached by Paulk who accused her of trespassing and being engaged in drug activity. She said that after she became upset at these accusations, Paulk handcuffed her, took her to the policy station and charged her with disorderly conduct. She claims that the charges were dismissed by the court on October 14, 2008.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

The case is captioned McQueen v. Asbury Park, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-02657 and McQueen’s attorney was Dwight P. Ransom of Neptune. Case documents are on-line here.

None of McQueen’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Asbury Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Asbury Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McQueen $10,000 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.

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