Attn: Sergeant Anthony Facchini
Union City Police Internal Affairs Unit
3715 Palisade Avenue
Union City, NJ 07087
Dear Sergeant Facchini:
I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and seek an Internal Affairs investigation into the circumstances surrounding a May 23, 2009 arrest of Juan C. Peguero of 514 3rd Street, Union City. The Union City officers involved were Alex Ruperto, Jose Castillo and Damien DiFazio and Sergeants Dominick DePinto and John Dowling
Peguero's encounter with the Union City Police fits a familiar pattern:
1. The arrestee sues, claiming to have been brutalized by the police. (In this case, Peguero claims that the officers were out looking for him "to punch [him] in the face." When the officers found him, he was punched in the mouth by Officer Ruperto, causing his head to strike a concrete column and then beaten by other officers after he was on the ground.)
2. The officers, in their incident reports, describe the incident much differently. (In this case, the officers claim that Peguero, in order to avoid arrest, threatened to turn his "large pit bull" on them. The officers claim that they used the minimum amount of force necessary to subdue Peguero and their actions caused only a "minor laceration" to his lip.)
3. After a couple of years pass, the arrestee settles the case with the police department's insurer. (In this case, Peguero's claim was settled for $106,500.)
4. The police department's insurer and attorneys make sure that the settlement agreement recites that none of the officers did anything wrong and that the settlement "is being entered into solely for the purpose of economic expediency." (See ¶ 5 of the settlement agreement.)
5. The police department's insurer and attorney, in an apparent attempt to keep the taxpayers from finding out about the settlement, include a confidentiality provision within the settlement agreement that prohibits the arrestee from publicly disclosing the settlement terms or even the fact that the settlement agreement exists. (See ¶ 8 of the settlement agreement.)
Peguero's lawsuit and settlement agreement, together with Ruperto's and DePinto's incident reports are on-line here.
We in the public cannot determine who, if anyone, was at fault based on the available information. If we could prove that the officers were at fault, we could demand that they be fired and charged with criminal offenses. If we could prove that Peguero fabricated the basis of his lawsuit, we could publicly criticize and demand the removal of the officials who decided to pay him $106,500 for a meritless claim and perhaps recover the money Peguero wrongfully received. If we could prove that the civil litigation system is so flawed that it makes financial sense for the police department to pay $106,500 to an arrestee who suffered nothing more than a cut on his lip, we could demand that the system be overhauled and replaced with something more efficient.
The problem is that we don't have enough information to allow us to know where and in what manner to direct our energies. All that we do know is that under the current system the same scenario will play out over and over again imposing a heavy financial burden on police departments and the taxpayers that fund them.
The only avenue that citizens who are frustrated by this process have is the police Internal Affairs function. If the IA function works in a non-biased and thorough manner, the outcome of a complaint against officers who allegedly abused an arrestee can help inform us of whether the officers were actually at fault. If, for example, your police department, in response to the present complaint, were to discipline the officers, we would be in a better position to conclude that Peguero did not overstate his grievance and probably deserved the money. If, however, your police department were to exonerate the officers, we would, if we trusted the IA investigative process (the process is conducted in complete secrecy, which makes it very hard for the public to trust the outcome), be in a better position to believe that Peguero exaggerated his claims and injuries.
In sum, even though the outcome of this IA complaint (which I will, upon receipt of it, post on the Internet) may not provide us with all the information we need, it will at least provide us with more information than we currently have.
Accordingly, even though I don't have any independent knowledge of what happened, I wish to complain, on the strength of Peguero's lawsuit's allegations, that Ruperto, DePinto and the other officers violated the law and/or police department regulations in the manner in which they treated Peguero at the time of his May 23, 2009 arrest. I ask that the Union City Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit conduct a full investigation into this matter and let me know the result. (Even though the event occurred nearly four years ago, it was witnessed by many people, both police and civilian. We believe that at least some of them will presently be available to be interviewed.)
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ 08875