Bayonne police brutality suit cost at least $1.5 million to settle

At least $1.5 million was paid to settle a police brutality lawsuit brought by a family that was beaten and pepper-sprayed by Bayonne police, according to a confidential deal released Friday after a year-long court battle by The Jersey Journal.

The family of Brandon Walsh sued the city of Bayonne and the police department in November 2014, 11 months after Walsh was beaten with a flashlight during an arrest at his home. The lawsuit asserted that his mother, Kathy Walsh, was pepper-sprayed by police and the chemical irritant spread to other family members in the house, causing the whole family, including the family’s dogs, to “become violently ill.”

A redacted settlement agreement was released to The Journal nearly one year after it filed an Open Public Records Act request and subsequently sued the city when the request was denied. The agreement was handed over only after the state Supreme Court rejected the city’s motion for a stay of a lower court’s ruling that the city must turn over the document, which is a public record.

Under the settlement agreement, which was completed March 17, 2017, Brandon Walsh will receive $600,000 in an annuity to be paid in $2,000-per-month increments over 25 years. The city’s insurer, the New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund, paid $551,000 to an annuity provider to cover the payments, the settlement said.

Another $1 million was placed into a trust fund of the Walsh family’s attorney, Joel S. Silberman, although it is not clear in the document how much of that amount is designated for the family members who were part of the lawsuit – Brandon Walsh; Kathy Walsh; her mother, Mary Marshall; her disabled daughter; another son, Aaron Walsh; and two grandchildren.

Under the terms of the deal, the Walsh family agreed that the settlement was not an admission by the city “of any wrongdoing or liability” and “is being entered into solely for the purpose of economic expediency.”

“We’re thrilled that residents of Bayonne can finally see the cost of the Walsh incident,” said David Blomquist, publisher of The Jersey Journal. “This was a long and challenging struggle for our readers’ right to know.”

Interviewed Friday night, Silberman declined to say if or how the $1 million would be divvied up.

Details of the agreement pertaining to the minor children and the disabled adult were redacted from the settlement.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Walsh family and their attorney were barred from talking about the agreement, or even to acknowledge that the agreement existed. The Walsh family and Silberman also agreed in the settlement that their communication with the media regarding the settlement would consist only of a statement that “the action was settled to my satisfaction.”

On Sept. 15, 2015, Police Officer Dominico Lillo, who was identified in the lawsuit as striking Brandon Walsh, pleaded guilty in federal court to use of excessive force. Another officer, Francis Styles, was charged in federal court with covering up the police brutality. His trial late last year ended in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not decided if it will seek to re-try Styles.

By state law, settlements entered into by public entities can only be sealed or shielded from the public under extraordinary circumstances. But the parties asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy Waldor, who heard the case, to seal the agreement.

When The Journal asked to receive a copy of the agreement, the city denied its request. It later argued that Waldor had sealed the agreement and shielded it from public view.

In May, The Jersey Journal filed a complaint in state court, asking the court to force Bayonne to release the agreement. Over the next nine months, state and federal courts soundly rejected claims by Bayonne and the insurance fund that the release of the settlement would put members of the Walsh family in danger.

Ensuing motions by the attorneys for the insurance fund in state appellate court and the state Supreme Court were rejected, leaving the city with only the hope that a federal appeals court would overturn Waldor’s decision. But the city abandoned that fight on Friday.

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis blamed the insurance fund for the long legal battle. “The city wanted to release it,” Davis said. “There is nothing to hide. … No one ever came through my doors. I would have made them release it (earlier).”

 

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