On May 16, 2016, the Borough of Keansburg (Monmouth County) quietly paid $22,500 to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed that his arrest by Borough police was in retaliation for him having complained about the police department’s slow response time several weeks earlier.

In his complaint, Thomas J. Harris said that he called police on December 20, 2014 because a parked car was blocking his driveway.  Officer James Koempel, who responded to the call, allegedly disagreed with Harris and said that the car was not blocking his driveway.  Later that evening, Koempel, along with six other officers, returned and arrested Harris for criminal mischief claiming that he had vandalized the parked car.  Harris denied the accusation and said that Koempel threatened to call his employer to “tell them what kind of person” he was.  Harris said that he posted bail, was released from jail and was ultimately found not guilty of the charges.

Harris claimed that his arrest “was in retaliation for an incident which had occurred several weeks prior, when [Harris] and his wife had complained to the Keansburg Chief Police about the slow response time of the police, when the couple was attacked by a pitbull.”  Also named in the suit was officer Justin Cocuzza.

The case is captioned Harris, v. Borough of Keansburg, et al, Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3329-15 and Harris’ attorney was Donald R. Moran of Jersey city.  The complaint and and the settlement are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement amount and 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 Harris’ 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 Keansburg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Harris $22,500 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]