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June 3, 2008 -- Asbury Park Press (NJ)

Beaten In Raid, Man Gets $350G

Excessive Force Alleged

By Lauren O. Kidd, Toms River Bureau

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

TOMS RIVER -- A Toms River man, who claimed he was in an apartment to measure for curtains when he was kicked and stomped on by law enforcement officers during a drug raid four years ago, has won a $350,000 settlement in exchange for the dismissal of his excessive force lawsuit, his attorney said.

Jon Caldwell, 54, suffered chest trauma and fractured ribs after law enforcement officers "put their boots on his neck and started beating him by kicking and stomping on him," according to the lawsuit, which attorney Eugene Melody said was filed in September 2006.

The lawsuit contends that on Dec. 17, 2004, the then-Dover Township Police Department and the Ocean County Narcotics Strike Force were executing search warrants on a pair of apartments in the Park Ridge Apartment complex on Walnut Street. The raids were part of an ongoing investigation into the distribution of marijuana in the Toms River area, according to the suit.

Caldwell had signed a lease to rent an apartment in the complex beginning in January. The superintendent of the complex had given Caldwell a key to the apartment so he could measure for window treatments and furnishings, the suit states.

On a tip that a person was in an abandoned apartment, law enforcement also raided an apartment that they did not have a search warrant for, the suit claims. Caldwell was in that apartment.

"Several men in SWAT-type gear broke down the door to his apartment and tackled him, slamming him face first to the floor. These men, . . . members of the Narcotics Strike Force, put their boots on his neck and started kicking and stomping on him," the suit states. "None of these men ever identified themselves as "law enforcement' to Mr. Caldwell or asked him what he was doing in the apartment."

After law enforcement realized Caldwell had nothing to do with the drug raid, they let him go, the suit states. The next day, Caldwell was admitted to Community Medical Center, Toms River, according to the suit. His medical bills total nearly $100,000, according to the suit.

Toms River Police Chief Michael G. Mastronardy characterized the incident as "a rarity." To the best of his knowledge, the department last settled an excessive-force lawsuit in 1992, Mastronardy said. He said law enforcement was tipped off that another suspect in the drug raid may have been in the empty apartment.

"Somewhere along the line, the gentleman did suffer injuries," he said.

Both Mastronardy and Assistant Township Attorney Allison Davis referred further questions to Thomas Monahan, the Toms River-based attorney who represented the township in the matter. Monahan could not be reached for comment.

The settlement includes $300,000 from Toms River, $12,500 from Ocean County, $12,500 from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and $25,000 from the landlord of the Park Ridge Apartments, where the raid took place, according to Melody, the Little Silver-based attorney representing Caldwell.

The $350,000 settlement was reached last month, in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. Hughes, according to Melody.

Generally, a third of such settlements goes toward attorney fees, Melody said.

According to Melody, the lawsuit sought damages from the Toms River Police Department and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office on the grounds that law enforcement used excessive force and violated the constitutional rights of his client. The suit sought damages from Ocean County, claiming the county trained law enforcement, and sought damages from the landlord, claiming the superintendent was negligent in allowing law enforcement to enter the apartment Caldwell was in without warning, Melody said.

First Assistant Prosecutor Ronald DeLigny, of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford had no comment on the settlement, because she was not in office at the time of the incident.

"The decision to contribute $12,500 was essentially a business decision to stop the cost of litigation," DeLigny said. The Prosecutor's Office has made no admission of liability, he said.

Caldwell himself could not be reached for comment. Melody said his client "is very happy with the way it turned out."

"One of the things we do in the civil rights cases is we try to put these things forward so that they don't happen again," Melody said. "And one of the things we would hope to happen is that they will look at their procedures, and that when they enter a building without a warrant that this doesn't happen again."

Lauren O. Kidd: (732) 557-5737 or

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