On July 12, 2016, the Township of Mantua (Gloucester County) agreed to pay a naturalized citizen originally from Palestine $25,000 to settle his claim that Township officers retaliated against him by charging him with drunk driving because he had attempted to speak to Mantua Police Chief Rodney Sawyer about the unprofessional manner in which officers treated him during a July 5, 2013 traffic stop.

In his lawsuit, Edward Habayeb said that he was pulled over by Corporal Shaun Butler after having crossed the center line to avoid hitting garbage cans that were in the roadway.  Habayeb said that he had a single beer six hours before but had no odor of alcohol on his breath. He said that Butler conducted himself in a profane, insulting and abusive manner.

Butler was allegedly suspicious and decided to pursue the drunk driving investigation. He had Officer Krista Shields conduct her first ever field sobriety test on Habayeb even though “no one had ever shown her how to conduct such a test.”  Shields’ allegedly failed to conduct the tests properly.

According to the lawsuit, Officer Brian Hauss conducted an Alcotest test which Habayeb allegedly aced with a 0.00% reading.  Butler issued him two summonses, one for failure to maintain a lane and the other for improper signaling.

Habayeb set up a July 8, 2016 meeting with Chief Sawyer “to discuss the unprofessional manner in which he was treated by the [officers].”  Chief Sawyer cancelled the meeting and on the next day, July 9, 2016, Shields reportedly sent Habayeb two additional summons in the mail.  One of the summonses was for Reckless Driving and the other was for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.  Habayeb claimed that these summonses were issued to retaliate against him for attempting to meet with Chief Sawyer.  According to the lawsuit, both of the latter summonses were dismissed by the municipal prosecutor.

The case is captioned Habayeb v. Butler, et al, Federal Case No. 15-cv-05107 and Habayeb’s attorney was Richard M. Flynn of Gloucester City.  Case documents are on-line here

None of lawsuit’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 Mantua or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Habayeb $25,000 than take the matter 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]