A New Jersey county has settled a lawsuit for $10 million with a man paralyzed after an encounter with police. Still, the county is not accepting any responsibility for his injuries, according to reports.
While the settlement is considered one of the largest of its kind in the state and one of the largest in the nation, Camden County maintains there was no wrongdoing on the defendants’ part.
The Camden County officers who apprehended Xavier Ingram said he “slipped and fell” on wet pavement. Ingram said the officers stomped him as soon as he was down. As a result, he is paralyzed from the neck down.
Ingram sued the county, the police department, the former police chief, former assistant chief and three officers involved in his 2014 arrest.
A jury could not agree on which version of the story was the truth, and the trial for the case ended in a hung jury on March 29. Lawyers for the county said the settlement was a business decision by the county’s insurance company. The case has been ongoing for nearly eight years.
According to the court documents, the three officers, Antonio Gennetta, Jeremy Merck and Mark Marchiafava, were doing a “sweep” at Ingram’s apartment complex in June 2014 when they found a gun outside his apartment. They assumed it belonged to Ingram.
They followed Ingram to a nearby store. The lawsuit says he was accosted and shoved by Gennetta and Marchiafava when he exited. Ingram ran, and the officers chased him to another parking lot, where he laid down on the pavement and surrendered, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges the officers “immediately jumped,” handcuffed and “viciously” struck Ingram while he was face down on the street. The officers allegedly stomped on the Black man’s neck and back. Merck stepped on Ingram’s neck with his boots, and Ingram heard his neck break, the claim says.
Ingram said he screamed for the officers to stop and told them that he could not feel his arms and legs. In response, Merck told Ingram to “shut up” and kicked him, he claims. Ingram accused Merck of denying him medical care.
According to the complaint, Ingram has severe injuries to his cervical spine, including fractures, a dislocated disc, disc protrusion, cord contusion and spinal cord compression.
Ingram’s lawyers said the officers used “unjustified, unnecessary and excessive force.” They accused the officers of violating Ingram’s constitutional rights to be free of unlawful and unreasonable seizure.
The lawsuit further alleges that a bystander, Darren Dickerson, saw the officers beating Ingram and told them to stop. They told Dickerson to “move on, unless you want some of this too,” according to the suit.
Dickerson yelled at the officers resulting in them giving him the same alleged treatment as Ingram. Dickerson was stomped, kneed in his back and kicked in his ribs. He had to seek medical care, the lawsuit says.
Camden County spokesperson Dan Keashen told Bloomberg Law that the officers saw Ingram duck between two cars where a stolen handgun was found.
He “slipped and fell without being touched while running from officers” and was caught with heroin, Keashen claims.
Keashen said Camden County was in “complete disagreement” with the settlement, and the county’s insurance company forced its hand.
“Based on the settlement the county maintains, and continues to maintain, that no wrongdoing took place, and is not liable for any of the actions and circumstances of the aforementioned incident,” Keashen said.
Jay Blumberg, an attorney for Merck, told CNN the insurance company “was concerned about the climate in which we live and that the jury would not be able to see past that.”
Ingram, 29, was charged with possession of drugs and a stolen gun, but the charges were later dropped. The officers reportedly gave conflicting stories about who discovered the drugs and when and where they were found. Ingram’s attorneys argued that he was framed.
Beth Baldinger, one of Ingram’s attorneys, presented evidence in the trial that showed prosecutors met after his arrest and decided to release a statement saying he fell on a slippery pavement before an investigation was even conducted.
The lawsuit also accused the county and police department of covering up the incident by refusing to release Skycam video footage and radio conversations about the incident.
“Mr. Ingram is very relieved, confident and comfortable with the settlement. It’s finally over. It’s been an eight-year, epic battle to obtain justice for him,” Baldinger said, calling the settlement a “tremendous acknowledgment, even though the defendants do not admit to liability.”
Ingram’s attorneys said the award is larger than settlements that have been awarded to the families of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, $6 million each, and Freddie Gray, $6.4 million. However, Louisville settled its lawsuit with Breonna Taylor‘s family for $12 million, and George Floyd’s family received $27 million for his in-custody death.
Baldinger said her client plans to use the money to leave the nursing home, which currently manages his care, to move into an apartment, where he will be able to spend more time with his four children. She told CNN the lawsuit accomplished “what many civil rights litigants go through, which is an extraordinary ordeal.”
“To peel back the layers of how police departments want to present themselves publicly, but really how they operate under the radar,” she said.