On March 7, 2023, the Borough of Bound Brook (Somerset County, NJ) agreed to pay $675,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit filed by a Rahway man who claimed that four Borough police officers “violently punched” him in the face numerous times while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

In his lawsuit, Alfred Lawson claimed that during his October 24, 2015 arrest, but prior to being handcuffed, he was “assaulted by [Officers] Jeff Dewar and/or Janos Bojtos and/or [Sergeant] Robert Lavin and/or [Officers] Brian Wertheim and/or Keith Kilgore” along with other unnamed officers. He said that he was then handcuffed and dragged to “a police vehicle quite a distance away” by Dewar, Lavin, Wertheim and/or Kilgore where the officers allegedly “violently punched the defenseless [Lawson] in the face numerous times causing serious injury.”

Lawson’s lawsuit also claimed that the officers falsified their reports in an attempt to cover up their alleged misdeeds and that no meaningful investigation of the incident was conducted.

In a June 11, 2020 Courier News article, “Bound Brook police sued over alleged brutality of Rahway man,” by Nick Muscavage, Bound Brook police reportedly claimed that Lawson had “resisted arrest and fought with the officers” and kicked out the windows of a police vehicle in an attempt to escape, which are contentions that Lawson disputed. Muscavage’s article also reports that Lawson “has served multiple stints behind bars.”

According to Bound Brook Borough’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Dewar and Bojtos retired in 2016 and 2022, respectively, while Kilgore resigned in 2022. Lavin and Wertheim are reported to still be employed by the department with annual salaries of $135,267.56 and $125,294.40, respectively.

According to DataUniverse, the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) shows Jeffrey W. Dewar, who was born in 1968, as having retired in September 2016 due “ordinary disability.” As of 2021, Dewar was receiving a $3,573.77 monthly pension allowance. No information on Bojtos’ pension allowance is currently available on DataUniverse.

A December 22, 2022 Order and Opinion by Superior Court Judge Christopher D. Rafano dismissed most of the claims that were based on supervisor liability. The settlement agreement noted that Lawson’s attorney advised the Borough that he intended to file an appeal.

As part of the settlement, Lawson agreed to dismiss his claims against Officers Jeff Dewar, Keith Kilgore, Janos Bojtos and Brian Wertheim, Sergeants Robert Lavin, Vito Bet (later chief), John Mazuera (now Lieutenant) and Jeffrey Raub, Captain Kevin Rivenbark, Chief Michael D. Jannone and Mayor Robert Fazen, who are considered to be “non-settling defendants.”

The case is captioned Alfred Lawson v. Officer Jeff Dewar, et al, Docket No. MID-L-8788-20 and Lawson’s attorney was Kevin T. Flood of Hillsborough. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Lawson’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 Bound Brook officers. All that is known for sure is that Bound Brook or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lawson $675,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle 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 settle 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]