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Crime Police brutality lawsuit will cost Paterson taxpayers over $300K

00:20  20 february  2020
00:20  20 february  2020 Source:   northjersey.com

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PATERSON — In a case that will end up costing Paterson taxpayers more than $300,000, the City Council on Tuesday night decided to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who suffered a broken nose when Paterson police arrested him in a low-level drug bust in 2010.

The council voted 5-4 to pay the man, Juan Simmons, $175,000 in a settlement, a figure that also would cover his lawyer’s fees.

On top of that, the city must pay its own attorneys, an expense that exceeded $120,000 as of Febuary 2019, according to public records. Officials said that number will grow substantially because of the work the attorneys have done over the past 12 months.

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The litigation has dragged on since 2011 and the city balked at a potential settlement at an undisclosed amount a year ago. Officials said at the time that Paterson would prevail if the case went to trial.

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But about nine months ago, Simmons’ lawyer, Fred Zemel, was able to track down a witness whose account of the incident supported Simmons’ assertion that the police officers used excessive force on him, officials said. The witness also said that one of the officers allegedly used a racial epithet while arresting Simmons.

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Council members William McKoy, Lilisa Mimms and Luis Velez said they voted to settle the lawsuit to avoid the risk of going to trial and getting a verdict that would have cost the city more money.

“Given the information we had, this was the most prudent course of action,” said McKoy.

Councilman Flavio Rivera disagreed with that position. Rivera said that considering how much money the city already has spent defending the case over the past nine years, the city should have gone to trial. Rivera said there were questions about the credibility of the witness who emerged last year.

Simmons pleaded guilty in 2011 to drug possession charges and served a year in jail for the incident that sparked the lawsuit. He alleged that the officers struck him in the face and head while they arrested him. The city had maintained that the officers were trying to prevent Simmons from swallowing heroin he had hidden in his mouth.

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The officers named in the lawsuit, Kevin Collins and Salvatore Macolino, were members of the narcotics division at the time of the incident. Collins has since retired, while Macolino still works in the Paterson Police Department.

As the case unfolded, Zemel prevailed in getting access to the police department’s confidential Internal Affairs (IA) division records. Zemel said he found that the two officers had been the targets of 30 IA complaints, none of which were substantiated.

Zemel argued in court documents that the track record of unsubstantiated complaints proved that the police department was either covering up wrongdoing or incapable of policing itself.

But city officials had maintained that the high number of complaints against Collins and Macolino stemmed from the fact that the people they apprehended in drug busts often resisted arrests and made accusations against cops in an attempt to get the criminal charges against them dropped.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey: Police brutality lawsuit will cost Paterson taxpayers over $300K

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