On July 27, 2016, the City of East Orange (Essex County) agreed to pay $16,000 to a man who said that after police hit him in the eye for no reason, they told him “that he should have stayed in Brooklyn.”

In his lawsuit, Richard Bennett alleged that he was walking down the street when Officer Damon Johnson and/or Detective Himonshu Antala “without provocation and without warning” hit him in the face with a hard object which knocked him down and caused him to “bleed profusely from his left eye.”

After the officers handcuffed Bennett, a Domino’s Pizza employee allegedly vouched for Bennett’s innocence which convinced the officers to remove Bennett’s handcuffs and set him free.  An ambulance was called and Detective Epifenio Mendez and Sergeants Reginald Butts and James W. Pitts arrived on the scene.

Bennett said that the police ran his identification and it came back clean. It was at that time that Bennett told police that he had recently moved to the neighborhood from Brooklyn and that police allegedly responded that he should have stayed there and “should not have come to New Jersey.”

Bennett said that the police tried to intimidate him and decided not to file a report of the encounter in order to make it more difficult for him to litigate.

The case is captioned Bennett, et al v City of East Orange, et al Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00359 and Bennett’s attorney was Adana U. Ugwonali of Newark.  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 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 East Orange or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bennett $16,000 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]