On November 25, 2014, I wrote about two lawsuits filed by Plainfield Police Officers. In one of those lawsuits, Lieutenant Jeffrey Plum claimed that Officer Andre Crawford, the police union president, assaulted him by placing his arm around his neck, pulling him into his office and not allowing him to leave.  In the other, Sergeant Frederick W. Walz claimed that Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig retaliated against him after Walz found a three-page printed e-mail on the center console of a police vehicle that he and his supervising captain “interpreted as indicating that defendant Hellwig was soliciting prostitution services via the Internet while in the course of his employment.”

Plum’s lawsuit settled on October 25, 2015 for $2,500.  Walz settled his suit on November 30, 2015 in exchange for being promoted to lieutenant on January 1, 2016 with the promotion, pay and pension being “made retroactive for a period of one (1) year” plus an $80,000 payout for his attorney fees and compensatory damages.

While obtaining the settlement agreements through an Open Public Records Act request to Plainfield, I also obtained a February 25, 2016, 36-page written decision by Judge Alan G. Lesnewich that provides some details and context to Walz’s claim and the City’s defense. (Judge Lesnewich’s opinion begins after Walz’s settlement agreement in the file at the link above.)

None of Plum’s or Walz’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather settle with Plum and Walz than take the matters to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision 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 resolve 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]