In November 2015, the Borough of Fairview (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,000 to a Franklin Lakes college student who claimed that Fairview police falsely arrested him and conspired to violate his rights.

In his suit, Manuel Alvarez claimed that on December 8, 2013 the car he was driving was stopped by Fairview Police Detective Joseph Bucco and other officers who accused him, without any factual basis, of possessing illegal drugs.  Alvarez claimed that police told him that if he didn’t consent to a search of the trunk of his car, they would “tear up his vehicle and charge him with driving under the influence of alcohol.”  Alvarez maintained that he had nothing to drink and did not have any drugs in the car.

When he asked why he was being detained, the police allegedly accused him of being intoxicated and ordered him to do field sobriety tests.  However, when he began to perform the tests, the police allegedly “jeered and made fun of him” and then handcuffed him roughly.  Alvarez, who described himself as a “large muscular individual” claimed that because of his size, police should have used two sets of handcuffs.  He claimed that when he was placed in the police car “he could not feel his hands due to circulation being constricted” by the handcuffs.  When he asked police for help with the cuffs, they allegedly ridiculed him.  He said that the pain was so great that he consented to a search of his trunk in order to get them to loosen the handcuffs.

According to the lawsuit, no drugs were found in the car.  Yet, Alvarez claimed that he was taken to the police station and called a “dumb sp*c,” “f*gg*t” and “p*ssy” by the officers.  After blowing a 0% on the breathalyzer, Rivera claimed that the police then had a Drug Influence Evaluator test him and that the evaluator determined that he under the influence of marijuana.  This caused him to be charged with drug offenses as well as driving under the influence.  Alvarez claimed that all the charges, except for a driving without a seatbelt ticket, were ultimately dismissed.

The case is captioned Alvarez v. Borough of Fairview et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv01851 and Alvarez’s attorney was Karam Nahas of Raritan.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Alvarez’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Fairview or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Fairview or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Alvarez $7,000 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]