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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 Officer 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.

The 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.

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 Oaklyn or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Diaz $250,000 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.

By John Paff

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