A Jersey City man who was struck by a police officer in 2017 will receive a $925,000 settlement from the city after the City Council approved it to end litigation between the man and the city over the case.
The council unanimously approved the settlement at their Oct. 13 meeting, stating that the Jersey City Insurance Fund Commission will issue a check in that amount to Jonathan Sanders, the man who was hit, in a trust by his attorney, Joel Silberman.
According to the resolution, Sanders had sued Jersey City, the city’s police department, and officers Morton Otundo, Francisco Montero, John Saleh and Albert Bauer in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging that his civil rights were violated and that he suffered injuries.
The Jersey Journal reported back in May of 2017 that per Silberman, Sanders was punched when police responded to a report of “an aggressive man walking a ‘large’ pit bull without a leash and arguing with pedestrians.”
Video surveillance footage without sound of the incident posted by NJ.com on YouTube shows a six-and-a-half minute video that begins with Sanders conversing with at least three officers before the physical altercation.
At around the 4-minute and 30-second mark of the video, Sanders is seen reaching out to his dog, who is running around him, Otundo and another officer, and then extends his left arm to Otundo’s right shoulder when he is then hit by Otundo and falls onto the floor. Otundo then appears to be pinning Sanders onto the ground in the rest of the video.
Silberman told the Jersey Journal at the time that Sanders suffered fractures on his right eye socket, sinus wall and nose, and had to undergo reconstructive surgery in which a titanium plate was used to restore structural integrity to his eye socket.
“Absent such surgery, Mr. Sanders’ eyeball would have receded into his cheek,” Silberman told the Journal. He then said that “in the absence of such video it is likely that the officers involved would have maintained the version of events contained in their perjure-laden reports.”
A police report written by Otundo, according to the Journal, claims that Sanders was yelling obscenities at him and the other officers, and appeared to be intoxicated. He also claims that he pushed Sanders, and, because of his intoxicated state, fell to the floor and struck his head.
The resolution for the settlement states that “upon conducting a thorough assessment of the file, facts and the relevant law, a jury could plausibly conclude the plaintiff’s civil rights were violated and render a verdict in excess of the amount of the settlement, which would include compensatory damages and counsel fees.”
“Therefore, given the risks, costs and possible outcome associated with trial, Corporation Counsel recommends this settlement be approved,” the resolution concludes.
It is unknown if any disciplinary action was taken against the officers sued in the lawsuit. Otundo died in an off-duty motorcycle accident last year. A Jersey City spokesperson did not respond for comment about the settlement by the time of publication.
“The matter was settled in satisfaction with Mr. Sanders, and he’s happy to bring closure to this matter,” said Silberman in a brief comment to the Hudson Reporter.