On April 11, 2016, the Township of West Deptford and the Borough of Woodbury Heights (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $237,500 each, for a total of $575,000, to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he suffered excessive force at the hands of a Township police officer in 2012.

In his suit, Joseph M. Rickert gave little information about the event underlying his suit.  The suit states only that West Deptford Officer Michael Franks, assisted by Woodbury Heights Officer Nicholas DiBlasio, “unreasonably and unlawfully seized” Rickert on April 6, 2012 and “used excessive force causing a significant permanent injury.”

The case is captioned Rickert v. Borough of Woodbury Heights, et al, Federal Case No. 14-cv-0093 and Rickert’s attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland. The civil lawsuit and West Deptford’s settlement are on-line here and the Woodbury Heights settlement is here..

West Deptford’s 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.  Woodbury Height’s agreement contains no confidentiality clause.

None of Rickert’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 West Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rickert $237,500 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]