A community mourns an infant, hometown heros are celebrated and nuclear power plant subsidies are debated – all in “7 things to know this week in New Jersey.” John C. Ensslin
PATERSON — The city has agreed to pay $140,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by a man who accused a Paterson police officer of body-slamming him to the ground during a dispute over alleged public drinking.
During the past 16 months, the city has paid more than $1.2 million to settle five other lawsuits alleging police misconduct such as excessive force by officers and false arrests.
The most recently settled lawsuit claimed the Paterson Police Department has a track record of failing to hold its officers accountable for wrongdoing and described the Internal Affairs investigations conducted by the department as shams.
The federal complaint also alleged that the Paterson department tolerated excessive force to such a degree that “officers felt that they could violate the rights of citizens with impunity.”
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The lawsuit identified Police Officer John DiTaranto as the primary offender in the incident. DiTaranto, who has been on the force since 2005, currently is suspended with pay involving an unrelated incident, officials said. Details of the other case have not been made public.
“I hope this case will prompt Paterson to conduct more serious and substantive investigations of complaints against its police officers,” said Aymen Aboushi, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the man who claimed he was body-slammed, Christian Reyes.
“They need to do a better job policing their police officers and making sure the public is protected,” said Aboushi.
In approving the settlement last Tuesday night, the Paterson City Council expressed frustration with the case and the track record of litigation involving law enforcement officers, with several members expressing a need for better controls over police conduct.
“Habits are easy to learn and difficult to break,” said Councilman Michael Jackson, who cast the only vote against the settlement.
Council President Ruby Cotton said she hoped the city would be able to avoid such lawsuits.
Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale said the department has made changes in its Internal Affairs operation in recent years, including the implementation of an electronic system that monitors whether individual officers are involved in a disproportionate number of problems.
“We now have in place an early-warning intervention system and other safeguards that flag instances of misconduct,” Speziale said.
Speziale said he also wants the Internal Affairs division to implement “civility tests” and “integrity tests” for Paterson — measures he said are akin to undercover operations devised to make sure law enforcement officers are conducting themselves properly.
Reyes’ lawsuit claims he was mistreated by DiTaranto and four other officers while he was hanging out with friends on Robert Street in Paterson in May 2015. Reyes alleges that one of the officers falsely accused him of drinking alcohol in public and then attacked him when he made comments to the officers.
Reyes was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. But those charges eventually were dropped, officials said.
Reyes, who is in his 20s, has since moved out of New Jersey, his lawyer said.
As part of the lawsuit, Reyes’ lawyer gained access to the accused officers’ Internal Affairs case files. But Aboushi declined to reveal what the files showed regarding the track records of DiTaranto and the other officers. He said a federal judge ordered that the contents of the complaint files be kept confidential.
Paterson council members in recent years frequently have complained about state Attorney General’s Office guidelines that don’t allow elected officials to have access to most Internal Affairs records.
Besides DiTaranto, the other officers named in the lawsuit were Angel Jiminez, Oswaldo Mendez, Jose Casteneda and Lt. George Vasquez.