City lawsuit

November 21, 2010 • Editorial

While agreeing to a financial settlement is not the same as admitting guilt, it’s not a step a municipality should take lightly when it comes to lawsuits.
Last week, Roswell city officials announced an agreement involving an August 2008 lawsuit against the city and the Roswell Police Department. The City Council unanimously approved spending $350,000 for the settlement. An additional $900,000 is being paid by the city’s insurance carrier.

The lawsuit stems from the March 2008 death of Javier Aguilar, who died in [auth] police custody following a physical altercation with officers. The cause of death is a matter of dispute between city officials and Aguilar’s family. The lawsuit asserted Aguilar suffocated due to the position he was placed in by police after being restrained. City officials attributed the death to cardiac arrest.

Mayor Del Jurney made a point last week of saying the settlement is “not an indictment of our officers or our police department.” We commend the mayor for his statement, but we also know that some in the law enforcement community are not happy about the outcome of the lawsuit.
Police and other emergency personnel risk their lives to protect our community. They deserve the full support of the people they help. So when the city settles a lawsuit rather than taking the case to court, it’s at least an implied black mark against the reputation of the officers involved. The indignation of some emergency personnel is further compounded in this case by the fact that a police investigation into the incident found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officers.
As we lack many of the details presented to the City Council, we can’t judge whether settling this particular case was the right move for the city. We trust that councilors had compelling reasons to approve the settlement.

We would, however, like to point out that when it comes to deciding whether to settle a lawsuit, there is more to consider than the financial equation of any given case. If a city employee is guilty of wrongdoing, settling a lawsuit is probably the most expedient and cost effective solution.

However, if an employee and/or the city is the target of a frivolous lawsuit, it should be fought every time. Agreeing to a settlement to save on legal costs is a slight against the employee’s reputation and if done frequently can encourage more lawsuits down the road. People will be more likely to sue the city if they believe they can get some easy money.

Our city’s police force needs to know it has the confidence and support of the City Council, and we’re certain it does. While some officers may not be pleased by the outcome of this particular case, they should be assured their dedication is appreciated not only by city management, but by those they protect and serve.

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