On November 17, 2008, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $32,500 to a man who sued members of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

According to a June 8, 2008 federal court opinion, Pierre Reid, Sr. said that he was falsely arrested by Patrolmen Scott Nell, Michael Steinman, Christopher Mozitis, Anthony Venuto, William Reed and Jeffrey Lancaster and Lieutenant Larry Szapor on September 13, 2003. The arrest arose out of domestic violence charges brought against Reid by his former girlfriend Michelle Nieves. The second count of Reid’s lawsuit alleges that Szapor, Steinman, Mozitis, Venuto, Reed and Lancaster hurled “racial slurs and profanity” at him and “maced him uncontrollably” in the face and genitals while again arresting him two days later on September 15, 2003.

The crux of Reid’s complaints is that Patrolman Scott Nell was allegedly in a romantic relationship with Michelle Nieves and that Nell and Nieves conspired to falsely assert domestic violence charges against Reid. According to a footnote in the court decision, “Nell and Nieves became romantically involved and were married in December of 2004.”

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit were Pierre Reid, Jr., Kristen Amber Reed and Victor Nelson. Also named as defendants were Michelle Nieves, Patrolman Michael Bordonaro and the Township of Egg Harbor.

The case is captioned Reid v. Nell, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04885-RMB-JS and Reid’s attorney was Ericka A. Appenzeller of Atlantic City. 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.

None of Reid’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Reid $32,500 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]