On November 21, 2021, the County of Salem, the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office (SCPO) and the State of New Jersey agreed to pay a total of $50,000 to a Penns Grove woman who said that a SCPO detective handcuffed her and searched her apartment even though the search warrant was for a different apartment.

In her August 3, 2018 lawsuit, Laverne Hill claimed that she was sitting on the front porch of her State Street apartment at about 11:30 a.m. on August 9, 2016 when she was approached by SCPO Detective Elliot D. Hernandez. Hill claimed that Hernandez and other officers placed her in handcuffs “for no cause or reason” and searched her apartment, which is apartment 77B, when the search warrant was for apartment 77A, which Hill said was not her apartment. Hill alleged in her lawsuit that “no charges were ever filed against [her] and no arrest [was] ever made.”

Hill claimed that her detention and the search were unjustified and resulted in law enforcement officers “effectively ransacking her apartment” causing her “to incur substantial costs, expenses, and inconveniences, and to suffer emotional and psychological trauma and damage to her character and reputation.”

The case is captioned Laverne Hill v. Salem County Prosecutor’s Office, et al, Docket No. SLM-L-164-18 and the Hill’s attorney was Anthony Granato of Marlton. The civil 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 employees or officials named in the lawsuit. Hill’s allegations against Hernandez and other officials are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that Salem County, the SCPO or the State of New Jersey, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hill $50,000 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]