Ocean City Pays Ex-Con $13,131 to End K-9 Lawsuit

Robert Petnick had claimed he was injured by a K-9 dog during an arrest.

Robert Petnick.  Credit: N.J. Department of Corrections
Robert Petnick. Credit: N.J. Department of Corrections

Ocean City agreed to pay an ex-convict $13,131.43 to end a lawsuit that claimed he suffered "emotional and physical injuries" during his apprehension by Ocean City police and a K-9 dog.

A settlement agreement signed Dec. 20 dismisses a complaint filed by Robert Petnick against the City of Ocean City and four members of the Ocean City Police Department: Officer Robert Koob, Officer Anthony Fearnhead, Officer John Vogt and Sgt. Jon Campo.

The settlement includes no admission of liability on the part of the city and the officers.

"I agree that you have entered into this settlement agreement and general release solely to avoid the time, expense and continuing distraction of this litigation," Petnick agreed in the settlement.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 16, 2011, Petnick accused 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, then 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. The Wildwood law firm Barry, Corrado, Grassi and Gibson represented Petnick.

A release signed by Joseph C. Grassi indicates that he will be paid $10,868.57 from the settlement (including $4,302.86 in costs and $6,565.71 in attorney's fees).

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. Ocean City works with the Atlantic County Joint Insurance Fund (JIF), which insures the city against such claims, when it decides on how to proceed with lawsuits.

The city sometimes decides to settle lawsuits to save taxpayers the expense of going to trial and the potential expense of an unfavorable judgment.

Ocean City recently paid to settle lawsuits filed by Sanitation Department employees claiming racial discrimination ($249,000), another man injured during a K-9 arrest ($60,000), a fire captain alleging wrongful job actions ($115,000), a former lifeguard alleging age-discrimination ($50,000), another lifeguard claiming age-discrimination ($75,000), among other settlements.

City Council has met in executive session recently to discuss other pending litigation against the city.

Wyatt January 23, 2014 at 02:13 PM
I'll bet the lOCals are glad that the bulk of these costs will be borne by the real estate taxes paid by the shoobie second home owners. Just imagine what this would do to the tax rate if only the lOCals had to cover the amounts. Wonder if we shoobies will now be more tolerated in town at times other than the dead of summer.
Beach View January 24, 2014 at 06:35 AM
This is a town run,managed and policed by incompetent fools. What would happen if all the tax money paid by non-resident homeowners (who receive very little in return and, of course, can't vote) suddenly vanished? You'd have to run the town like any other in America instead of treating it like the fattened calf that it is.
Dubert January 24, 2014 at 07:01 AM
Wyatt, if you own a house and live there for the summer, you can classify yourself as a shlocal not a shoobie. A much higher status very near local status. Still without voting rights of course
Wyatt January 24, 2014 at 08:37 AM
Although I've seen the shlocal term in a few articles, here on Patch, etc. I have never heard it actually used. I'll bet most lOCals wouldn't actually use it. But nevertheless, even its existence evidences that non-lOCals are of inferior status. This man is an ex-con so the description is factual, and facts are'by definition, objective. The labels folks have earned often stick with them even after the fact, such as "General" "Colonel" "Captain" etc. as appropriate for retired military. And even retired MDs are still called "Doctor" though they are no longer such.
Jane January 24, 2014 at 11:21 AM
What a waste of money. Why turn the dog loose if suspect was being held at gunpoint. If this is not the case, we need officials to fight these charges. Seems like the word is out that OC will just throw money at a problem to make it go away. The suits mentioned in this article total over a half a million dollars! If they have all that money to throw away, maybe our taxes are too high.
steve fenichel January 24, 2014 at 03:19 PM
It is extremely disrespectful for the headline to refer to Mr. Petnick as an ex- con. First of all an " ex-con" paid his debt to society and is no longer a "convict". Calling him that diminishes his humanity and the legitimacy of the Patch. Journalism requires objectivity and stigmatizing an alleged victim of Police brutality is unprofessional. Journalism must serve Truth and Justice not propaganda of the authorities. Second public Safety has been totally betrayed by Mayor Gillian and members of Council for not resolving this case in a court of law. It has always been my belief that the involved police officers needed to be aggressively defended and hopefully cleared of the heavy handed treatment Petnick alleged. I am beginning to think that this payoff to silence the issue looks like these officers were probably guilty of the allegations. No citizen can feel safe in Ocean City with a City Government that covers up the truth and cowardly shirks from providing accountability of City Cops. $13,131 for a brutal dog attack on a restrained victim. Our City Officials got off dirt cheap. Do they expect praise from the taxpayers for their ability to exploit a weak opponent. Bullies and cowards is the way this event should be perceived. Steven Fenichel, MD
Eric Sauder January 24, 2014 at 04:17 PM
There's a good reason why freedom of the press was so important to our founding fathers. In many cases it is the only check we have on politicians. Making stuff go away would be so much easier if no one knew about it (right?) A little knowledge is a powerful thing. For that we owe a debt of gratitude to the press. In this case it would seem that as long as we have a K-9 unit we're going to get sued for it. Councilman Guinosso stated a half a year ago that the City had over a $mill in pending lawsuits / settlements. That is the cost to the taxpayer of how we do business here. The official reason for these settlements is to avoid the costs of litigation. But I can't help but think that the reas reason is to avoid responsibility for our actions.
Eric Sauder January 24, 2014 at 04:23 PM
In my opinion settlements are an admission of culpability.
Phyllis Geisdorf January 24, 2014 at 05:44 PM
These lawsuits are consider "nuisance" claims by insurance companies and probably OC….After all we have quite a slush fund from excess water/sewer rates and taxes from non-residents who fund year round services on an Island that is fully inhabited only 3 months of the year!
vic January 25, 2014 at 01:09 AM
Phyllis Geisdorf January 25, 2014 at 07:25 AM
Vic, You're back…..had to say something to get you back…..tell me more about the sewer lines OC sold to New Jersey American Water…….It would save me some research time!!!!
WDH January 25, 2014 at 12:55 PM
Hmmm, wonder what the settlement would have been if the dog bit him much lower at a junction point. Ex con is an ex con...serving time and getting out doesn't erase the tag of ex con. Sorry there liberals.
Parker Miller January 25, 2014 at 02:10 PM
This settlement is so low, I have to wonder if Petnick had much of a case. I notice many of the Patch comments imply that Petnick is telling the truth and not embellishing his side of the story. Of the hundred police actions listed on Patch and in the newspaper every week, only one or two in a year's time involve a complaint against the police, and those appear to be made by people who have had past problems obeying the law. Wonder why? Wyatt, with your attitude I'm not sure you'd be welcome anywhere at anytime. If you're so unhappy with OC, why don't you summer in a place less corrupt like AC or Philadelphia. At least non-residents get the same use of city facilities and services as full time residents. They can use the library and aquatic fitness center, send their kids to school here, and get city services like trash pick-up and rabies clinic. If one is a non-resident and pays the Philadelphia wage tax, one gets nothing, zero, zippo. Ex-con? If he hadn't paid his debt to society, he'd be called a con. He's an ex-con. One's deeds and misdeeds tend to stay with one. If one is no longer practicing medicine, should one still use Dr. as a prefix? perhaps Ex-doc is better.
Eric Sauder January 25, 2014 at 02:51 PM
How bout Post Doc :)
WDH January 29, 2014 at 12:20 PM


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