On November 6, 2019, the State of New Jersey paid $25,000 to an Ocean County man who claimed that a sergeant with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office (OCPO) intentionally stepped on his head while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground.

In his lawsuit, Alex C. Brennan said that he was outside of JR’s Bar in Seaside Heights when a fight broke out. Brennan claimed that he was not involved in the scuffle but grabbed his friend who was arguing with another person. According to the lawsuit, Seaside Heights police officers pulled Brennan apart from his friend, took him to the ground and handcuffed him.

According to Brennan, OCPO Sergeant John Steinhauer then approached him while he was lying on the sidewalk and “intentionally stepped on his head and grinded his face into the cement ground.” He claimed that while handcuffed he “did not pose a threat to the safety of the officers or others” and that Steinhauer’s decision to step on his head was “malicious, sadistic and done for the sole purpose of causing [Brennan] harm.” Brennan claimed that he “sustained bruises and abrasions to his face, as well as ecchymosis to his right eye.”

A police report of the incident notes that after his arrest, Brennan’s forehead was bleeding but that he refused medical treatment.

The case is captioned Brennan v. Steinhauer, Federal Case No. 3:18-cv-12187 and Brennan’s attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. 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 New Jersey, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brennan $25,000 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.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]