Paterson City Council just agreed to this settlement in a police excessive force case

PATERSON — The city has agreed to pay $132,500 to settle a lawsuit accusing Paterson police officers of using excessive force while arresting a man and using pepper spray on people watching the incident.

The agreement will provide $52,000 to Jerel Wilkins, the man who was arrested, and $20,000 apiece to the three people who security camera footage showed were pepper-sprayed: Danielle Goodwin, Najera Young and a juvenile identified in court documents as “O.Y.” The settlement also covers legal fees, officials said.

What happened?

The incident happened in August 2020 in the parking lot of a laundromat and dollar store on East 18th Street in Paterson’s 4th Ward.

Wilkins, who was charged with obstruction and a disorderly persons offense, said the police officers beat him while he was handcuffed on the ground. The police officers denied any misconduct in their court response to the allegations. The lawsuit settlement does not say whether the officers committed any wrongdoing.

Joel Silberman, the lawyer representing Wilkins and the women who were pepper-sprayed, declined to comment on the settlement. The City Council voted 6-0 to approve the deal.

What did officials say?

Council Vice President Luis Velez said he voted in favor of the settlement because that was the advice of the city’s lawyers. But Velez said he disagreed with the decision and thought Paterson should have fought the case in court. The council vice president said he doesn’t think the police officers did anything wrong in their handling of the incident.

“The city needs to challenge these types of cases. Instead, we just settle them,” Velez said. “We’re sending the wrong message. People are getting compensated for wrongdoing.”

Velez said Wilkins at one point tried to escape from police after he was handcuffed. “What are they supposed to do? Let him go?” the councilman said.

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