“Wildwood NJ 4/19/2011” by the bridge is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On December 2, 2020, the City of Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $80,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a local bike shop owner who claimed that police falsely arrested him after he called them for assistance to slow down traffic on flooded streets.

Scott Chambers, who owns Zippy’s Bikes on Pacific Avenue, claimed that the streets outside of his shop were flooded on July 15, 2017 due to heavy rain. Chambers said that he placed plastic signs in the travel lanes of Pacific Avenue to warn traffic to slow down because “a vehicle traveling even at a slow speed created wakes that would splash onto bicycles parked in front of the business, the business itself as well as any and all customers and pedestrians.” Despite the signs, Chambers said that passing cars were still travelling too fast and that one particular car did “rooster tails” through the flood waters which soaked Chambers, his son and Zippy’s customers as they attempted to transact business.

According to the lawsuit, Chambers, frustrated by having been soaked, called Wildwood Police to help him slow down the traffic. Sergeant Karree Wright and Patrolmen John Dadura and Andrew Vivarelli responded to the call. Chambers alleged that he was approached by Dadura who ordered him to remove the plastic signs in Pacific Ave. Chambers said that he explained “that the sign was the only thing slowing the traffic” and wanted only for the police to control the traffic for ten minutes or so until the water receded. He also said that he told Dadura that he had the “rooster tail” vehicle on video and wanted him to see it.

Dadura immediately threatened Chambers with a summons for blocking Pacific Avenue and ignored his request to view the surveillance video, according to the lawsuit. Chambers admitted that he was agitated by the encounter and claimed that Dadura told him to “calm down” lest he be arrested for disorderly conduct. Chambers said he responded by telling Dadura, “Calm down my ass.” At that point, Dadura arrested him.

The arrest was effectuated by Dadura and Vivarelli pulling Chambers’ hands behind him. Chambers, who said that he was recovering from back surgery and had stitches from his surgical procedure still affixed in his back, begged the officers to release him. He claimed that the officers arrested him at his place of business in front of his customers and 15-year-old son.

Following Chambers’ arrest, Dadura issued him a summons for the disorderly person’s offense of “loud and offensive language.” He was found guilty in Ocean City municipal court but on August 17, 2018 Superior Court Judge Michael J. Donohue vacated the conviction.

In his lawsuit, Chambers claimed that the Wildwood officers “initiate[d] criminal process against [him] . . . knowing that there was no probable cause or reasonable basis in fact or law to charge [him].

According to the settlement agreement all of the officers named as defendants in Chambers’ lawsuit were “dismissed and released from this action with prejudice prior to the settlement hereof.” Dadura has been employed by the City since December 30, 2013 and his current salary is $80,312.

The case is captioned Scott Chambers v. Patrolman John Dadura, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-258-19 and Chambers’s attorney was Louis M. Barbone of Atlantic City. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of 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 or officials named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Chambers $80,000 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]