LAKEWOOD RESIDENTS ON THE HOOK FOR LAWSUIT AFTER POLICE OFFICER CRASHES VEHICLE

Lakewood residents are on the hook for the legal fees for yet another lawsuit filed against the Township after a police officer crashed into an individual while driving a police department vehicle.


A lawsuit just filed in Ocean County Superior Court charges that Lakewood Police Officer Matthew T. McKee crashed into Plaintiff Ujjwala Jain while driving a police department vehicle on Route 88 in Brick Township in a non-emergency situation.


According to the complaint, on January 13, 2022, Plaintiff Ujjwala Jain, a resident of Freehold Township, was stopped in traffic eastbound on Route 88 in Brick Township when Officer McKee, who was driving behind her, struck her vehicle so forcefully that her vehicle crossed over into oncoming westbound traffic and her vehicle was then struck by a third vehicle.


The Plaintiff charges that the crash caused her "serious and permanent damages" and she is currently "disabled from attending to her necessary affairs and business".


The suit, filed by Edison Attorney Steven Cahn, seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages, interest, and costs of suit.


The Township has not yet responded to this lawsuit.


Lakewood residents are also on the hook for legal fees for another lawsuit involving the Lakewood Police Department.


The lawsuit was filed by Lakewood resident Courtney Griffin who charges he was "deprived of his civil rights when officers pursued, detained, surrounded and fought with him in the street on the night of December 18th, 2019."


The suit specifically names Officers John Novak, Alex Pedre, Joseph Prebish, Sherry Jones, Christopher Dibiase, William Allen, Joseph Przewoznik, and Cameron Rose.


At the time of the incident, Mr. Griffin worked at Alpha Engineering, at 651 New Hampshire Avenue. He usually got a ride home at the end of his shift. One night, he worked overtime and walked home alone. It was very cold that evening, he had only a thin jacket, and he began to walk home in the cold.


Unbeknownst to Mr. Griffin, a 911 operator took a call about a “black man” stalking a “Jewish man” and brandishing a knife at about the time of Mr. Griffin’s exit from Alpha Engineering. Police drove up rapidly on Mr. Griffin, frightening him and yelling at him. As he spoke with the first officer on scene, many other police cars and officers came at him. The police officers blocked off the street because there were so many cars reporting to this particular scene. An officer began yelling at Courtney that he had a knife and she needed to speak with him, the lawsuit charges.


Courtney denied having a knife. He told the officer he had just left his work and had a box cutter. Many other police officers entered the area and began surrounding Mr. Griffin. The first office ran at Mr. Griffin and pulled the box cutter from his pocket. Officers confronted Mr. Griffin and he crouched back, prepared for a beating. Mr. Griffin was tackled to the ground by Officer Pedre. Mr. Griffin was then taken to the station, questioned, ticketed for disorderly conduct and released into his mother’s care, the lawsuit charges.


Mr. Griffin claims that "no officer attempted to defuse the escalating situation", and that in fact he was "targeted by multiple officers after a farcical 911 call related to the stalking of a young Jewish man who, not surprisingly, was nowhere to be seen when he was stopped".


His 3-count lawsuit charges that 1) his 4th Amendment Rights were violated as he was subjected to a Stop and Frisk event despite no tangible evidence of any stalking or otherwise criminal intent, 2) his 14th Amendment Rights were violated as he was "subjected to an initial stop due to his being targeted as a Black man in downtown Lakewood", and he "was subjected to a Stop and Frisk event despite no tangible evidence of any stalking or otherwise criminal intent", 3) his New Jersey State Law Against Discrimination Law Against Discrimination Rights were violated.


This lawsuit was originally filed in Ocean County Superior Court back in December 2021, however, it is now a federal case after an attorney representing Lakewood Township asked the Superior Court Judge to move the case to U.S. District Court in Trenton, noting that federal rights charges should be pled in federal court.


Toms River Attorney Michael S. Nagurka of Rothstein, Mandell, Strohm, Halm and Cipriani is representing the Township and the officers named in the lawsuit. He just filed an answer denying all "stop and frisk" and "fighting" charges, admitting only that a 9-1-1 call was made by a concerned citizen, and the officers responded to the scene and found Mr. Griffin with a knife in his hands, and they then took the knife and arrested and released Mr. Griffin.


Attorney Nagurka also claims in his answer that any force used by the defendants was reasonable and necessary and was in response to the plaintiff’s actions, and any search of the plaintiff was incident to a lawful arrest and based upon probable cause, and therefore, the officers have qualified immunity as well as absolute immunity.


Mr. Nagurka further charges that the officers did not deliberately act against the Plaintiff, rather the Plaintiff is the one who filed a lawsuit in bad faith with the intent to harass these officers and cause great sums of money to defend this lawsuit.



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