On June 7, 2012, the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Chester husband and wife who sued members of the Lavallette Police Department for allegedly arresting the husband without probable cause.

In their suit, Michael and Ann Cotalo said that Michael was “accosted” by Lavallette Police Sergeant Jon Andrews and Officer Russell Charles on July 25, 2009.  He claims that the officers arrested him without probable cause.  The apparent charge against Cotalo was under the Borough’s “Loud and Unusual Noise” ordinance, which Cotalo claimed was unconstitutional.  The couple also alleged that Andrews and Charles seized a juvenile who was staying with them without probable cause.

The case is captioned Cotalo v. Lavallette, Federal Case No. 11-cv-3449 and Cotalo’s attorney was Craig V. O’Connor of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here

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