Family: Cops wouldn’t stop ‘welfare checks’ on kid, snickered ‘I’m in charge’
CALDWELL — The borough will pay a family $30,000, after it claimed that police repeatedly came into their home — without the family's consent or a warrant — to perform unjustified welfare checks on their son.
Throughout their ordeal, the family claimed in a lawsuit, they reluctantly put up with repeated intrusions — at first. Eventually, the family put out a doormat that read "come back with a warrant," but police disregarded the message, the family's lawsuit claimed.
The lawsuit and settlement were first reported by the NJ Civil Settlements blog, maintained by government transparency advocate John Paff. The $30,000 settlement was reached in July.
According to the family's court filing, Craig DeVito and his wife Provi live in a Caldwell home along with their daughters, son-in-law and two grandsons. The father of one of the grandsons, Joseph Colon of Toms River, was involved in a custody dispute with the boy's mother, Daryen DeVito.
After a few welfare checks, the lawsuit states, the family had its lawyer call Caldwell police and instruct them that any future visits would require a court order.
But then, on December 13, 2012, without ever knocking or ringing a bell, an officer entered the home once again. to the shock and alarm of Provi DeVito," the family said in its lawsuit.
"Ms. DeVito asked, 'What are you doing here?' The officer responded, 'We got a call saying to check on Joseph Colon because his father fears something is going on.' At that point, Mr. DeVito entered the room and emphatically told the officer to leave," the lawsuit reads.
But instead of leaving, the officer called for backup, the lawsuit states.
The family's lawyer threatened legal action against the police, but they still paid one more visit to the home — on Mother's Day, 2013, the lawsuit states.
"Some time in late morning, Sgt. Michael Pellegrino arrived at the house stating that he was there for a "welfare check" on (the boy)," the lawsuit states. "Mr. DeVito met the officer at the front door and asked Sgt. Pellegrino if he had a warrant. Sgt, Pellegrino said, 'I don't need one.'"
"This is my house. Explain to me what right you have to enter without a warrant,'" DeVito reportedly said. But Pellegrino told him "When I'm here, I'm in charge," the lawsuit states.
When DeVito then pointed to the door mat on his porch, Pellegrino "snickered, pushed Mr, DeVito aside and entered the home," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit makes no mention of any charges filed against anyone in the home, or of any action taken to separate the boy from the home's occupants. Caldwell police could not immediately be reached Sunday for comment.
In the lawsuit, the family claimed they now experience anxiety at the sight of local police officers."
"They fear the local police, have suffered loss of sleep and the sense of security in their neighborhood and their own home," the lawsuit states.
A settlement isn't an admission of guilt. In Paff's blog, he notes — as he does with most descriptions of settlements — it's only an indication the borough or its insurer decided it was better to pay than to take the case to court.
"This is the problem when cases resolve before trial," Paff writes. "It is impossible to know the truth of what really happened."
More from New Jersey 101.5: