On April 30, 2010, the Borough of Ridgefield (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a developmentally disabled man who sued members of the Ridgefield Police Department for allegedly falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Bryan Parker said that he was at a Little League field on July 7, 2006 when he was taunted and teased by several teenage boys. Among them was Julian Benitez, who is also named as defendant in the suit.

Parker, who said that he became afraid, called the police. When Ridgefield Police Officers Robert Katz, Joseph Castellitto, Hagop Cigercioglu, Robert Williams and Richard Besser responded, Benitez allegedly told them that “Parker had touched him on the butt and rubbed his leg.”

Benitez’s allegation caused Katz to arrest him and charge him with criminal sexual contact. He was released on his own recognizance after being in custody for about three hours. The charge was reportedly amended to harassment and was later dismissed by the municipal court.

The complaint alleges that subsequent police interviews of Benitez revealed “contradictions that called into doubt his credibility.” Even though Police Chief John Bogovich was aware of the contradictions prior to Parker’s first court hearing, he allegedly did nothing to stop his prosecution from continuing.

The case is captioned Parker v. Ridgefield, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-3226 and Parker’s attorney was Stephen M. Latimer of Hackensack. Case documents are on-line here.

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 settlement agreement releases only Ridgefield and its officers, not Julian Benitez. According to an October 1, 2010 article in the Record, Benitez will be representing himself in the trial of the case.

None of Parker’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 Ridgefield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ridgefield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Parker $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]