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NJ Civil Settlements

Woman who claimed police dog “ripped her leg open” gets $250K settlement from Camden County town.

On February 3, 2020, the Borough of Oaklyn (Camden County, NJ) agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Collingswood woman who claimed that Borough cops sicced a police dog on her after chasing her home because she parked incorrectly in a 7-Eleven parking lot.

In her lawsuit, Natalie Diaz said that in the early evening of February 2, 2016, she went to the 7-Eleven in Oaklyn to purchase a cup of coffee. After seeing that there were no parking spaces, “she parked her car by one of the exits to the parking lot” with her engine running and lights on. When she exited the store “a few minutes” later, several people, including Oaklyn Police Sergeant Jayne Jones, “were yelling at her to move her car.”

Diaz said that she drove away from the 7-Eleven toward her home and that Jones pursued her. When she arrived at her Collingswood apartment complex, Jones approached her and yelled at her to get out of her car. Diaz, who claimed that she was “frightened and disoriented”, did not immediately comply which caused Jones to grab her with the intent of dragging her out of the car.

According to the suit, Officer Matthew Olivieri arrived with Enzo, a police canine. Olivieri allegedly released Enzo while Diaz was sitting in her parked car with the door open. Enzo allegedly attached Diaz “tearing holes into her clothing and ripping her leg open.” Diaz said that she was then “forced face down on the concrete, handcuffed and placed under arrest.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about it in “A stop for a cup of coffee at a South Jersey convenience store ended in an attack by a police dog. Now there’s a federal lawsuit,” by Barbara Boyer The article contains a police dash cam video that captures much of the incident.

This is at least the second time a monetary settlement has been paid out to resolve a court case against Jones. On September 25, 2015, Rachel Bourne of Audubon sued Jones and others for alleged misconduct arising out of an October 23, 2014 traffic incident.

In her civil complaint, Bourne alleged that Jones reckless cut her off while she was driving on Cuthbert Boulevard. According to Bourne, Jones created a “road rage incident” by exiting her car and “banging on [Bourne’s] window without identifying herself.” Bourne claimed that she was frightened of Jones and did not realize at the time that Jones was a police officer.

After Bourne refused Jones’ demand to exit her vehicle, Jones followed Bourne to her home in Audubon, according to the complaint. After arriving at Bourne’s home, Jones allegedly “proceeded to run after [Bourne] and then grabbed her, threw her to the ground, choked her, and caused emotional trauma.”

Bourne settled her case against Jones and Oaklyn Borough on February 4, 2017 for $35,000. The settlement agreement contained a confidentiality clause that prevents Bourne from disclosing the settlement.

According to the Oaklyn Borough Clerk’s April 10, 2020 response to an Open Public Records Act request, Jayne Jones was hired on December 13, 1999 and her salary is $94,053.03. The Clerk also reported that Matthew Olivieri was hired on June 10, 2002 and that his current salary is $89,571.86

The more recent case is captioned Diaz v. Oaklyn, Federal Case No. 1:18-cv-07798 and Diaz’s attorney was Thomas J. Gosse of Haddon Heights. Case documents are on-line here.

The older case is captioned Bourne v. Jones, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-07119 and Bourne’s attorney was Nathaniel Davis of Newark. Case documents are on-line here.

Neither 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 Oaklyn or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Diaz $250,000 and Bourne $35,000 than take the matters 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.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project