On July 7, 2015, the Township of Bloomfield (Essex County) agreed to pay $13,000 to a local man who claimed that Bloomfield police falsely arrested him and conspired to violate his rights.

In the suit and the related tort claim notice, Joseph Scurese claimed that on July 8, 2012, he and his friend, Dave Pezza, went to a Dunkin Donuts to meet Bernadette R. Yates who wanted to buy Pezza’s 2001 Buick.  According to the tort notice, Yates gave Pezza $1,000 in cash which Scurese put in his pocket.  Yates then because very angry when Pezza wanted her to go to the Motor Vehicle Commission to get license plates and a registration before he would release the Buick to her.  According to the notice, Yates screamed several times “I am the police” and that she didn’t “give a f*** about Motor Vehicles.”  (According to DataUniverse, a person named “Bernadette R. Yates” is a police officer for Middlesex County).  Update: 01/16/17: The same “Bernadette R. Yates” reflected in DataUniverse was transferred in March 2015 from the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department to the Elmwood Park (Passaic County) Police Department.)

Scurese claimed that the police who arrived at the confrontation told him that he should have just released the car to Yates.  During the encounter, an unidentified police sergeant, after seeing Yates’s ID, took her aside and talked to her for ten minutes.  In police reports later received, the sergeant was identified as “G. Motsch” (presumably Eugene Motsch).

What happened after that is unclear, but it appears from the tort notice that the police a) told Pezza to “shut his mouth” when he tried to explain why he didn’t release the car to Yates; b) handcuffed Pezza and put him in a patrol car; c) had Scurese give them the Buick’s registration and insurance; d) wrote Scurese summonses for having no insurance, registration and for displaying ficticious plates; e) had Scurese give Yates her $1,000 back; f) arrested Scurese and held him under $20,000 bail for indictable theft and forgery charges.  The officer who signed the criminal complaints against Scurese was Fabian Rojas.  The only other police official mentioned by name in the filings is “Lieutenant Shirello” who is  presumably Lt. Richard C. Chiarello.

According to Scurese’s filings, he was ultimately acquitted of all offenses.  He said that a citizens complaint that he filed against Yates never resolved because the Bloomfield Municipal Court wouldn’t complete a probable cause hearing.

The case is captioned Scurese v. Township of Bloomfield et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-05728 and Scurese’s attorney was Eldridge Hawkins of East Orange.  The case documents and the tort claim notice are on-line here and 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 Scureses’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $13,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bloomfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bloomfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Scurese $13,000 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]