On March 28, 2023, the Borough of Wharton (Morris County, NJ) quietly paid $125,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit filed by a Mine Hill man who claimed that officers beat him with a baton, breaking his wrist.

In his lawsuit, Frank Amendola claimed that on April 18, 2017, after returning home from an errand, he was confronted in his driveway by Wharton police sergeant John Roon and officer Gregory Garcia who were later joined by officer Richard Ornelas.

Amendola said that after exiting his vehicle and walking toward his home, the officers ordered him to return to his car and retrieve his credentials. Amendola said that he complied by going back to his vehicle and sitting in the driver’s seat. He said that the officers then assaulted him and that Ornelas beat him with his baton. As a result, Amendola claimed that he suffered significant injuries, including a wrist fracture and a dislocated ulnar joint which required surgery.

Amendola said that he was charged with resisting, eluding, assault and various motor vehicle offenses. He claimed that the officers lied in their official reports which led to a warrant being issued and Amendola being jailed.

The case is captioned Frank Amendola et al v. Sergeant John Roon et al, Federal Case No. 2:22-cv-02464 and the Amendolas were represented by Robert D. Kobin of Succasunna. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

According to the settlement, Amendola original filed suit in April 2019 but that lawsuit was dismissed in 2020 with Amendola reserving the right to file a new lawsuit. The present lawsuit was filed in 2022. The settlement also states that Mine Hill Township was also named in the lawsuit but that the Township was not served with the complaint.

Amendola’s wife, Beverly Amendola, was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit and claimed that the alleged beating by police caused her “to suffer the loss of [her husband’s] companionship, consortium, and services.”

The settlement agreements contains confidentiality clauses, under which the Amendolas agreed to keep the settlements terms and amounts confidential. 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.

None of the Amendolas’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. These are merely allegations and no one has proven that any of the officers named in suit had done anything wrong or improper. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. All that is known for sure is that Wharton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Amendolas $125,000 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]