A former New Jersey deputy attorney general who claimed Atlantic City police roughed him up at his bachelor party at a casino and arrested him won a $500,000 verdict Thursday in his federal court suit.
The jury found Michael Troso sustained his claims of false arrest, false imprisonment and excessive force against one of the police officers, as well as his claim that the city failed to train officers in the use of force.
The jury assessed the city and officer $250,000 each in compensatory damages but declined to award punitive damages.
According to the suit, police responded on Aug. 9, 2008, to a report of a fight between a guest at the party, held at the Trump Marina Casino Hotel, and another man.
Troso claimed that when he approached police to ask whether his guest was being arrested and flashed his badge from the Attorney General’s Office, the officers grabbed him, slammed him on the hood of a car and pummeled him.
The officers’ version was that Troso was yelling and waving his arms when he approached and that he refused their orders to step back while they arrested his guest.
Troso claims he suffered a cut lip, bloody nose and bruise near his eye in the arrest and continues to experience generalized anxiety disorder.
He was charged with obstructing the administration of law and held for several hours before his release. The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office declined to indict him and remanded the case to Atlantic City Municipal Court, where the charge was dismissed on March 9, 2009.
Troso sued five officers involved in the fracas but only one, Sterling Wheaten, was found liable.
The verdict followed a Nov. 15 ruling that granted the city’s motion to exclude summary reports of the numbers of internal affairs claims against each police officer defendant and how many of them had been sustained. U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb said a party that seeks to bring in such reports as evidence of municipal liability must provide context to show why prior cases were wrongly decided and how they are similar to the current case.
One of Troso’s attorneys, William Buckman, who heads a Moorestown firm, says his client’s arrest took a heavy toll, costing him his job with the Attorney General’s Office.
Two days after the incident, the Professional Standards Unit of the Division of Criminal Justice was notified and obtained copies of the police reports and the complaint issued to Troso. On Aug. 28, Troso was terminated.
Buckman criticizes the dismissal, saying Troso “dedicated himself to law enforcement, had excellent reviews, was an asset to the agency.”
He says a videotape of the incident supports Troso’s assertion that he did not act aggressively toward the police, but the Attorney General’s Office did not view the video or question Troso or independent witnesses.
Buckman says that Troso, now with defense lawyer Evan Levow’s office in Cherry Hill, feels vindicated by the verdict, considering the incident cost him his career in law enforcement.
Buckman’s co-counsel on the case was Surinder Aggarwal, a Trenton solo.
The lawyer for the city and the officers, Tracy Riley of Mount Holly’s Riley & Riley, did not return a call.
Attorney general spokeswoman Rachel Goematt declines to comment on the case, calling it a personnel matter.■