Ocean City Faces Two Lawsuits Related to Police Arrests
Council may discuss one lawsuit on Thursday night in executive session.
City Council will vote Thursday night (April 26) to go into a closed executive session to discuss a lawsuit against the city filed by an ex-convict who complains he suffered "emotional and physical injuries" during his apprehension by Ocean City police and a K-9 dog.
"Robert Petnick vs. the City of Ocean City" is the latest lawsuit against the city that City Council will discuss. The complaint also names Officer Robert Koob, Officer Anthony Fearnhead, Officer John Vogt and Sgt. Jon Campo as defendants.
A second and unrelated lawsuit involving the Ocean City Police Department was filed on Feb. 1. In that complaint, a marina owner alleges she was mistreated during her arrest on tampering with property charges (of which she was later acquitted). Maira Middleton of Bayview Marina names the city and Detective Steven Schaeffer as defendants.
Ocean City recently paid to settle lawsuits filed by a former Ocean City Beach Patrol member ($50,000), an Ocean City Fire Department captain ($222,624) and three former Sanitation Department workers ($83,000 apiece). The city faces a lawsuit filed by a West Atlantic Boulevard resident after a confrontation with an Ocean City police officer and a handful of other suits.
Ocean City taxpayers pay the bill for the legal expenses involved in defending the city and its employees against lawsuits, and they pay for any potential settlement that ends a lawsuit before it goes to trial.
Petnick vs. Ocean City
In a lawsuit filed Dec. 16, 2011, Petnick accuses the Ocean City Police Department of using excessive force in his arrest.
On Feb. 26, 2010, Ocean City police officers were responding to a notification by the New Jersey Intensive Supervision Program that Petnick had an outstanding warrant and that he was likely to be found at 2336 Simpson Ave., according to the lawsuit. Officers found Petnick running down the alley between Simpson and Bay avenues on the 2300 block, the suit says.
Petnick, 46, is 6'1" and 180 pounds, according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections, which has incarcerated him twice on charges that include bail jumping, theft and possession of a controlled dangerous substance.
In the lawsuit, Petnick says he was apprehended and held at gunpoint. He claims he was dragged on the alley and that officers released the K-9 dog Deuce even though he was not resisting arrest at the time.
"The dog bit the plaintiff on the left hand and fingers causing plaintiff to suffer physical and emotional injuries," the suit says.
The suit claims Petnick's constitutional protection against the use of excessive force was violated. It also claims the city tolerates such actions.
"Defendant Ocean City's indifference is demonstrated by a pattern carried out by officers and the failure of Internal Affairs to investigate and sustain legitimate and bona fide instances of assault," the suit claims.
The suit was filed in Superior Court in Cape May County, but it was moved to U.S. District Court in Camden because it involves constitutional questions. Aaron T. Penrod of the Wildwood law firm Barry, Corrado, Grassi and Gibson filed the suit on behalf of Petnick.
Maira Middleton vs. Ocean City
Middleton sued Ocean City for what she calls the "false arrest and malicious prosecution" that took place on Aug. 8, 2010.
According to the lawsuit, the Wet-N-Wild owners reported to police on Aug. 7 that somebody had tried to sabotage their watercraft, removing drain plugs and leaving evidence that the fuel tanks may have been contaminated with sugar.
The lawsuit claims that based on a supposition about the competing businesses, Detective Schaeffer confronted Middleton.
"Defendant Schaeffer yelled at plaintiff, arrested plaintiff in front of her daughter, placed handcuffs tightly upon plaintiff and jerked her arms and wrists so as to cause plaintiff significant pain," the lawsuit says.
The suit claims Middleton suffered severe emotional trauma during three hours at the Ocean City Police Department during which Schaeffer tried unsuccessfully to have Middleton be required to pay bail.
The suit says Middleton was acquitted of all charges on July 22, 2011.
The suit alleges that Middleton's constitutional and civil rights were violated and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, along with reimbursement of attorney's fees.
Middleton is represented by the William H. Buckman Law Firm of Moorestown.
The City of Ocean City and the Ocean City Police Department cannot comment on the pending litigation.