On April 27, 2022, the County of Passaic confidentially paid $850,000 to a woman who said that a Passaic County Sheriff’s Captain witnessed her get shot and pistol-whipped but failed to intervene.

In her lawsuit filed on September 5, 2019, Tishell Jackson claimed that while driving to go shopping on January 3, 2018, her ex-boyfriend got into her car while she was stopped at an intersection, pulled out a handgun and told her that “she had to die because she didn’t want to be with [him] any longer.” Jackson said that she “became afraid for her life” and drove across oncoming traffic and stopped her vehicle in the traffic lane a few feet away from a marked Passaic County Sheriff’s patrol vehicle.

When her vehicle stopped, Jackson said that her ex-boyfriend, Michael Mitchell, shot her in her right arm. The bullet allegedly passed through her arm, punctured her lung and fractured her ribs. When she exited the vehicle and attempted to flee, Mitchell shot her “approximately four more times at point blank range,” according to the lawsuit. He then reportedly pistol-whipped her with the handgun. Mitchell then allegedly shot Jackson in the face, breaking her jaw and face bones and splitting her tongue. Finally, Mitchell reportedly shot her again in the left shoulder are “with the bullet traveling to her right side with bullet fragments spreading out in the area of her chest.”

Jackson claimed that the entire incident, including the shooting and pistol-whipping, was witnessed by Passaic County Sheriff’s Captain Edward Akins who was in a marked patrol car which was stopped about twenty feet from Jackson’s car. Akins “did not act in any manner to protect the person of the [Jackson] thereby allowing the [Mitchell] to cause [Jackson] to suffer serious and painful personal injuries,” according to the lawsuit.

According to a February 10, 2022 Paterson Press article, “Passaic County rejects $4M arbitration aware in shooting victim Tishell Jackson’s lawsuit,” by Joe Malinconico, Akins testified in a deposition that when he saw Jackson’s stopped car, he thought it was disabled. He said that he wasn’t sure whether the first shot he heard might have been a car backfiring. When he realized it was a active shooter event, he moved his vehicle to provide cover for himself and people behind him and called for backup and an ambulance. Akins said that he ultimately exited his vehicle and unholstered his weapon but could not take a shot without jeopardizing public safety.

According to the County’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Akins was hired by the County on December 4, 1995 and is currently earning an annual “base rate” of $171,666 or an annual “comp rate” of $208,000.

The case is captioned Tishell Jackson v. Michael Mitchell, et al, Docket No. BER-L-4351-21 and Jackson’s attorney was Theodore E. Kyles, Jr. of Clifton. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause under which Jackson agreed to keep the settlement agreement secret. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant. The agreement also states that Akins and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office were “not participants in the within settlement” and that the only party that settled with Jackson was the County of Passaic.

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. Jackson’s allegations against Akins are just that–-unproven allegations. All that is known for sure is that Passaic County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jackson $850,000 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]