In his lawsuit filed on January 12, 2015, a thirteen year old boy, identified only by the initials C.F., claimed that Millville Police Officer Michael Thompson pointed “a gun directly at him” for about 30 seconds after Thompson stopped the boy for riding a motorized dirt bike in a wooded area near Magnolia Avenue on September 27, 2014. The boy and his parent, identified as D.F., claimed that the officer’s decision to pull his weapon was unwarranted “because of the lack of severity of the crime at issue, because [the boy] did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the police officer or others, and because [the boy] was not actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” According to the lawsuit, the officer’s decision to deploy his weapon amounted to excessive force and violated the boy’s rights under both the federal and state constitutions.
After first learning about this lawsuit in 2015, I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the police report, use of force report and other documents related to the event. The police report that I received gives no indication of a gun being used by Officer Thompson. Rather, the report depicts a rather benign event where the boy was allowed to walk his dirt bike home after Thompson verified that it wasn’t stolen.
The case is captioned C.F. v. City of Millville, et al, Docket No. CUM-L-24-15 and C.F.’s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. Case documents are on-line here. According to a court order following an August 26, 2016 “friendly hearing” before Judge Richard J. Geiger, C.F. received $20,818.45 of the $40,000 settlement amount while Costello received $19,181.55 for his attorney fees and costs.
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 Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay C.F. $40,000 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.