On April 9, 2012, the Borough of Matawan (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Neptune man who sued members of the Matawan Police Department for allegedly flicking a lit cigarette butt down his shirt and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Anthony Gray said that on October 5, 2009, he was walking down the street on crutches when Matawan Police Officer James Alston allegedly “pulled his vehicle up to house in the neighborhood in reckless fashion, nearly sideswiping a young man on a bicycle.” Officer Alston, who Gray claims was intoxicated and “was often intoxicated in public during police/citizen encounters” allegedly yelled and cursed at neighbors who asked him why he almost hit the bicyclist.

When other officers arrived at the scene, they allegedly ignored Alston’s instructions to arrest Gray.  Alston then reportedly told Gray that he was under arrest and when Gray asked why, Alston allegedly told him to “shut the f**k up.”  During the arrest, Alston allegedly flicked a lit cigarette butt down Gray’s shirt in order to provoke him.

The case is captioned Gray v. Matawan, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-05508 and Gray’s attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

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