Body camera footage shows Berkeley police officers arresting Heriberto Carrisquillo, who recently settled a civil suit against the township for $82,500. Footage courtesy Mallon & Tranger. Alex N. Gecan and Ryan Ross, Asbury Park Press
BERKELEY – The township has agreed to pay $82,500 to a legally deaf man who says he was a victim of excessive force in a 2016 arrest, when a back-and-forth he could not hear disintegrated into a physical altercation with police.
Heriberto Carrasquillo, 59, of Rutherford settled with the township May 31, according to a release and settlement agreement the Asbury Park Press obtained through a public records request. The settlement closed the third of four federal excessive force lawsuits against township police that name the same former patrolman, Patrick J. Stesner.
In his complaint, Carrasquillo accused Patrolmen Taylor Butler, Christopher Elliott and Stesner of punching and kneeing him and pushing his face into concrete after he led them to see several imitation firearms. Police had gone to the Berkeley home where he was staying to investigate a domestic incident. Carrasquillo claimed he could not understand the officers’ instructions and had told them so. Township police denied any wrongdoing in their responses to his complaint.
“This case in particular, and municipal settlements (in general), there’s often arguable areas of any complaint,” township administrator John Camera told the Asbury Park Press in a phone interview. “This one, the way we saw it, there was certainly an argument that the officer could have acted better than he did, and there was also an argument from our end that there were really no damages due to the officer’s actions.”
The officer, Camera clarified, was Stesner. Carrasquillo’s lawsuit was the third of five federal lawsuits in less than 10 years alleging excessive force by township police. Stesner, 42, has never been a lone defendant, but he is the only officer named in as many as four lawsuits.
The fifth lawsuit, which does not name Stesner, involves Berkeley police only insofar as one Berkeley officer was involved in a fatal 2016 Manchester shooting in his capacity as a member of an Ocean County Regional SWAT Team. The teams draw members from agencies throughout the county. A state investigation cleared the officers involved. You can watch video from that scene below.
RAW VIDEO: Manchester officer-involved shooting confirmed
The first two lawsuits, from Michael Forte in 2008 and Darren Yurick in 2014, settled for $110,000 each. In a fourth, Philip Giannattasio alleged in a February complaint that Stesner and patrolmen Steven M. Kappock and Ryan J. Wahl “used excessive and unreasonable force” during a June 2016 arrest. All of the defendants have denied wrongdoing. The case is ongoing.
There is video from Yurick’s encounter with police – in which he claimed officers beat him while he was in a holding cell – further down in this article. In this most recent settlement, none of the defendants — the township, township police, Chief Karin DiMichele, Butler, Elliott or Stesner — made any admission of wrongdoing, according to the agreement, which you can read at the bottom of this article.
Stesner “took Mr. Carrasquillo to the ground, really banged him, banged him up pretty good for no good reason,” Carrasquillo’s attorney, Thomas J. Mallon, told the Press.
Mallon, of Freehold firm Mallon & Tranger, also represented Forte and Yurick and currently represents Giannattasio. As with Carrasquillo, nobody made any admission of wrongdoing in the settlements with Forte and Yurick.
Darren Yurick claims his nose was broken when he was punched by a Berkeley police officer while handcuffed has filed a federal excessive force lawsuit against the police department. The incident was captured on this surveillance video.
“Mr. Carrasquillo is legally deaf, and he speaks very loud as a result of that,” Mallon said. “I think Stesner didn’t know how to deal with a guy who spoke loud to him, and he felt that it was confrontational when it really wasn’t and just overreacted as he did in other cases, and that’s what led to this settlement.”
Carrasquillo was charged with assault, aggravated assault, resisting arrest and possession of an imitation firearm at the time of the encounter, according to Carrasquillo’s 2017 civil complaint and police records.
Carrasquillo resolved his charges by way of pre-trial intervention, a diversionary program that can provide a way for first-time offenders to have charges dismissed, according to his complaint.
Stesner retired as of March 1, dropping a civil suit of his own in state court demanding reinstatement to active duty, a development Camera said was “in the best interests” of both the township and Stesner.
Stesner had been on paid leave since around the time of a 2017 neurological examination, according to his lawsuit.
“They should have taken action after the first (case), they should have fired him after the second,” Mallon said. “Now there’s a third and a fourth.”
At least some of the settlement will come from the township’s insurer, the Garden State Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, said Camera, but he did not have an exact breakdown on how much the township itself would have to pay.
Camera said the costs of defending a civil case factor into whether the township will settle.
“You have to weigh all those things in and unless you can say 100 percent sure that you feel really confident that there was nothing wrong done by the township … then we often do end up settling cases,” Camera said. He said it wasn’t ideal, but “it’s just a practicality.”
As far as the settlement goes, Mallon said his client was “satisfied.”
“He ran into an officer who made a mountain out of a molehill,” Mallon said. “And now, fortunately, Stesner is now gone.”
Camera said the police department and the rest of the township do their best every day to “take care of the job that we need to do.”
“You can’t always get it right, but certainly our goal and our ideology here is to treat all people fairly,” he said. “Our officers are often in difficult situations and, I think, deal with them admirably.”
Stesner’s salary at the time of his retirement, after approximately 15 years of service, was $110,630, according to township records. During his tenure he received praise from educators and other police agencies for his work with young people.
It is unclear whether Stesner applied for a conventional retirement or a disability retirement. Police officers in New Jersey who take conventional retirement before 20 years of service receive prorated pensions, according to the state treasury department.
Stesner’s personal lawyer, Robert F. Renaud, did not return a message requesting comment.
Nobody returned messages at a number listed as Stesner’s.