A federal judge ruled Monday that Atlantic City must pay $678,863 in legal fees to the attorneys for a Somers Point man who won an excessive-force lawsuit against the city and one of its retired officers earlier this year.
Steven Stadler, 49, won his lawsuit against Atlantic City and retired K-9 Officer John Devlin in a jury trial and was awarded $300,000 and $500 from the defendants, respectively.
Devlin receives about $3,400 a month from his pension from the Atlantic City Police Department, according to public records.
An excessive-force lawsuit involving Atlantic City police officer Franco Sydnor was settled …
Two current Atlantic City police officers who were also involved in the case, Glenn “Anthony” Abrams and William Moore, were found not liable.
The city Solicitor’s Office deferred comment to the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the city’s government. The DCA did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Jennifer Bonjean, the lead attorney for Stadler, said Stadler would have settled for much less than what the city has to pay now after five years of litigation.
“People get upset when the city settles, but there is a lot of downside for them if they lose a trial,” Bonjean said. “I don’t charge my client, and getting paid is contingent on winning these cases. So when I win, you better believe I’m going to come after every penny I’m entitled to.”
The legal fees also do not account for other costs Bonjean accrued during the five years of litigation, such as paying for depositions, and do not account for the money the city has to pay its own attorneys.
Bonjean billed $495 an hour while her colleague, Ashley Cohen, billed $250 an hour. The attorney’s paralegal, Stacy Bagaloo, charged $125 an hour.
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The Stadler case stemmed from a 2013 incident in which he tried to burglarize a car wash on Albany Avenue. During the burglary, Abrams, who was off duty, pulled up in an unmarked SUV and asked Stadler what he was doing.
Stadler responded “none of your business,” and when Abrams jumped out of the car, Stadler ran down an adjacent alley across from the Home Run Tavern.
According to the lawsuit, police had been on alert in that area because the car wash had been burglarized before. Soon after running away, Stadler walked back onto Albany Avenue and was stopped by Moore, who told him to put his hands on the hood of the car.
After putting his hands on the car, Stadler was handcuffed. Stadler claimed Abrams then walked up and punched him in the face. Devlin then arrived and released a dog on Stadler while he was resisting arrest.
The officers testified the arrest of Stadler was a “violent struggle” and their actions were justified.
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The jury agreed with Abrams and Moore but decided Devlin’s decision to release the dog was inappropriate.
The case also centered on the Police Department’s use-of-force policies before Henry White became chief in December 2013.
The case is one in a line of excessive-force cases that have plagued the Police Department.
Bonjean has represented several people who have claimed to be victims of excessive force by the city’s police officers.
In April, the city settled an excessive-force case against Officer Franco Sydnor for $650,000. The settlement in that case included legal fees, Bonjean said.
This fall, two more cases of excessive force brought by Bonjean against Atlantic City police officers will go to trial unless the two sides come to a settlement.
Those two cases both involve the use of K-9s, Bonjean said.
Bonjean also has a third case pending, although a trial date has not been set.