On October 4, 2017, the Borough of Lindenwold (Camden County) quietly paid $9,300 to a woman who said that police roughed her up, falsely arrested her and humiliated her by groping and exposing her genitals and breasts in a public parking lot.

In her lawsuit, Ramona Berry, who at the time was 50, said that on September 12, 2014 she rode with her daughter Aisha to the location where Lindenwold police had detained her other daughter for a traffic stop.  She said that she identified herself as the detainee’s mother and asked police what was going on.  Berry claimed that Patrolman Sean Williams screamed that if she didn’t get back into Aisha’s car she would be arrested.  Berry said that Williams was screaming in her ear as she was trying to open the car door at the same time that Aisha was trying to unlock it.  She said that after she gave up trying to open the car door, Williams “slammed her fifty-year-old body and head into a parked car, bent her over the car, handcuffed her violently, dragged and pushed her to a police car, tossed her roughly into the back of a police car, and violently shoved [her] legs into the car.”

When Berry arrived at the police station, Williams, in the station’s parking lot and in full view of other officers who were shining flashlights on her, allegedly pulled her clothes and undergarments away from her body and exposed her breasts and genitals to the other officers.  She claimed that Williams’ search “was conducted for the purpose of sexually humiliating and intimidating” her.  She alleged that she was put in a jail cell where she used the toilet without having been advised that a security camera was recording her.

Berry claimed that she was charged with obstructing Williams’ investigation and for “body checking” Williams in the parking lot outside of the police station. She alleged that both charges were dismissed when videos of the parking lot encounter and her use of the toilet were produced.

The case is captioned Berry, et al v. Lindenwold Borough, et al, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-08043 and Berry’s attorney was Derek A. Steenson of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement’s terms to others, including the media.  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 the 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 Lindenwold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Berry $9,300 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]