Cop who attacked mom in wheelchair, 4-year-old boy gets $117,500 settlement
ROBBINSVILLE — A police officer who'd had a "psychotic episode" during which he assaulted a woman in a wheelchair and her 4-year-old son will be paid $117,500.
In a lawsuit, former Sgt. Mark B. Lee alleged officials "consistently viewed the incident as a criminal matter, and failed to even concede the possibility, let alone recognize, despite substantial medical evidence, that the unfortunate events of September 17 (2012) were due to a serious medical event."
Lee and the township have agreed to a draft settlement — a dispute could derail the settlement before it's signed, though such disputes after a settlement is drafted are rare. As is typical with such a settlement, the township does not admit any wrongdoing. The lawsuit was first reported by the NJ Civil Settlements blog maintained by transparency activist John Paff.
According to reports at the time, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said Lee broke into an apartment at Project Freedom, a home for people with disabilities. There, authorities said, Lee knocked a woman from her wheelchair and attacked her son.
“He went berserk,” the woman's father told the Times of Trenton at the time. "He broke in the house, knocked her down, tried to get on top of her. Then he grabbed my grandchild. ... The officer said, "I want the boy, I want the boy.'"
The boy's father, also in a wheelchair, told the Times he couldn't help as the family's health aid struggled with lee.
“He took his clothes off, gun, uniform, and pants, and tried to jump out the window,” the boy's father reportedly said.
In his complaint, Lee says that when Robbinsville Patrolman Scott Kivet ... arrived at the scene for a 911 call about an assault in progress, "he observed Lee seated on the couch, wearing his uniform, class A pants and a white tee shirt."
Kivet secured Lee's weapon and told Lt. Michael Polaski, "Mike, something is wrong with him (Lee). He isn't acting right," the lawsuit states.
During transport afterward, "Lee's medical condition worsened as his mental faculties
continued to diminish. Lee was unable to speak coherently; he began to scream, cry and pray, and was unable to have a normal conversation," the lawsuit states. But it says officers "evidenced indecision" as to whether he should be taken to a hospital.
"Lee was about to be transported to the hospital when Chief (Martin) Masseroni heard Lee
screaming over the police, radio and ordered Lee back to police headquarters," it says.
Polaski tried to interrogate Lee in the pack of his police vehicle in the police parking lot as Lee "continued to experience increased medical difficulties" — resulting in an altercation that ended in more charges for Lee, including aggravated assault, and prompting them to take him to the Crisis Unit at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trento, the lawsuit says.
He was ultimately transferred and detained at the Ann Klein Forensic Center for 30 days, and was evaluated and treated by several psychiatric and neurological specialists for months.
The lawsuit says Robbinsville suspended Lee without pay, and would only pay his sick time conditioned upon his resignation — which he eventually offered as part of an arrangement to enter pretrial intervention, a form of probation.,
The year after the incident, the mother who'd been attacked, Shirley Smith, told the Times, ”Regardless of what the law says, I don’t think it is fair that he gets PTI after what he did to me, my son and my friend. I’m very angry.”
The lawsuit says the township and police department failed to "reasonably accommodate" Lee's medical condition or give him reasonable assistance while on a leave of absence after the incident.
"Instead, defendants failed to offer anything which would have helped relieve Lee's financial obligations while he was dealing with his illness," the lawsuit states.
Under the settlement, $12,500 of the $117,500 will be held in escrow to pay toward settlements or judgments the family Lee attacked or another claimant may have against Robbinsville.