Police Director Tracy Bowers

On August 1, 2016, Irvington Township (Essex County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $10,000 to be paid to a local man who claimed that he was falsely arrested for crimes including homicide and held under $2,000,000 bail “without a 10% cash alternative.”

Richard Etienne’s lawsuit give little detail of the events surrounding his arrest.  It discloses only that allegedly “false charges” were brought against Etienne on August 4, 2013 by Irvington Detective Shaun Green and a man named Joseph DeMarco whose relationship to Etienne, Green or Irvington is not disclosed.  Etienne claimed that all the charges brought against him were “terminated favorably” to him.

The case is captioned Etienne v. Irvington Township, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-08948 and Etienne’s attorney was Rhea Moore of East Orange.  Case documents are on-line 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 the Etienne’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 Irvington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Etienne $10,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Township, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]