On April 13, 2018, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority paid $500,000 to settle a Piscataway couple’s excessive force lawsuit against the New Jersey State Police.
In their complaint, Jermaine Rudd and his wife Louise Rudd claimed that on December 24, 2014, Mr. Rudd was arrested by Trooper Nitesh Patel who was assisted by other Troopers including Thomas Gamaro, Joe Villa, Oczkos Blazeg, Julio Mota and Gerrad Vega. During the arrest, the Troopers allegedly “used excessive force, assaulted, battered and otherwise violently attacked Rudd while he was in police custody.” Unfortunately, the complaint does not provide any details regarding the nature of the alleged application of excessive force.
The minutes of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s March 27, 2018 meeting, however, disclose that Mr. Rudd’s claim arose out of a DWI motor vehicle stop on the Garden State Parkway and that Rudd claimed that Troopers used excessive force against him while he was in the back of a patrol vehicle. Rudd also claimed that he fell in his cell at the old Bloomfield Barracks and then outside after he was released. He claimed to have suffered a fractured left kneecap and several torn knee ligaments.
The Authority’s minutes also disclose that the video of the alleged incident in the patrol vehicle was preserved while the video from the barracks was not, leading to a potential spoliation (i.e. the intentional, reckless, or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, fabricating, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding) claim. According to the minutes, Troopers Gamaro, Villa and Vega were dismissed from the lawsuit but claims were still pending against Troopers Patel, Mota and Oczkos when the settlement decision was made.
Mrs. Rudd’s claim is based on her “loss of services, companionship and society of her husband.” Patel is also accused in the lawsuit of filing a false police report.
The case is captioned Jermaine Rudd et al, v. State of New Jersey, et al, Middlesex County Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-5884-15 and the Rudds’ attorney was Brian Schiller of Westfield. The complaint and the release are on-line here.
None of the the Rudds’ 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 the State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Rudds $500,000 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.