Howell Township Settles Civil Lawsuit For $350,000

Photo courtesy of Cop Cruisers.org

HOWELL – Howell Township paid $350,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against the township by the family of a man who died while in the custody of Howell Township’s Police Department back in November.

Theresa Taylor and Melissa Barns, sisters of Timothy J. Harden, filed a lawsuit against the township after they believed Harden suffered a wrongful death due to “excessive and unreasonable force,” exercised by the Howell Police at the Souper Groove musical festival, according to the civil lawsuit. Taylor is the Administratrix of Harden’s estate and both Taylor and Harden were the plaintiffs in this case.

The other defendants in this case were: the New Jersey Latvian Society, Souper Groove LLP, members of Souper Souper LLP, Griffins Security LLC and ABC corporations. Each of these defendants hand some hand in the operation of the music festival, according to the civil lawsuit.

While the lawsuit was filed against all of these defendants individually, this settlement only resolved the suit between Harden’s sisters and Howell Township.

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The Souper Groove festival “was a weekend long venue featuring musical acts, where alcohol and drugs were available, open and obvious to the public, festival staff and/or security personnel,” as stated in the civil lawsuit. During the festival on Sept. 3, 2017, while Harden was acting as a volunteer worker, he began to have an episode where he seemed to be fearful and agitated. When witnesses noticed this behavior, some members of the festival and security tried to subdue Harden with this “excessive and unreasonable force.”

The Howell police were called and also became active in trying to restrain Harden with similar force. In the following days, on Sept. 5, Harden died as a result of what was believed to be unwarranted force exerted by festival staff and police during his episode.

According to the civil lawsuit, Harden experienced choking, fractured thyroid cartilage, numerous bruises and abrasions, and “conscious pain and suffering.”

Ten charges were lobbied against the defendants including: Excessive Force/Deadly Force, Unlawful Seizure, Failure to Intervene, Supervisory Liability, Unlawful Custom, Practice, Police/Inadequate Training, Violation of New Jersey Civil Rights Act, Assault and Battery, Negligent Hiring, Training, and Supervision/Failure to Provide Adequate Security, Agency, and Negligence.

On Nov. 6, 2017 the plaintiffs and Howell Township both agreed on a settlement of $350,000 from the township in exchange for freeing them, and the police department, of any liability in the case. In the General Release statement of the settlement, Howell Township still denied any responsibility for Harden’s death.

“(The township) expressly deny any liability, from any and all debts, claims, including any and all claims brought in the Civil Action, damages, actions, causes of action or suits and liabilities…on account of the wrongful death of the Decedent and any and all injuries,” it stated in the release.

This was doubly expressed in a recent press release on Jan. 16 from Howell Township that stated: “an agreement to resolve the lawsuit represented a way to end the litigation, regain control over mounting legal costs, and avoid the risk of an unfounded and unreasonable jury verdict. While the Township and Police Department believe that they would have ultimately prevailed, even the cost of this best-case scenario would have been far more expensive than terminating the litigation.”

The township claims to have settled to avoid extra legal expenses had the case made it to trial. The release noted that it was the township’s insurer that advised a settlement. Another deciding factor that led them to settle was the fact that any reparations would have been paid with taxpayer money, as mentioned in the release. The township claimed that they wanted to save the taxpayers from this.

“The Township’s decision does not mean that the Township or the Police Department was in any way liable for any of the claims in the lawsuit. In fact, all Howell Police Officers were cleared of wrongdoing by a grand jury, the Professional Responsibilities Unit of the Monmouth County Prosecutors Office and an Internal Affairs Unit of the Howell Police Department,” the release stated.