Newark to pay $175K to settle lawsuit with resident over wrongful arrest claim

By Bill Wichert | The Star-Ledger
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on July 30, 2014

NEWARK — Newark officials have agreed to pay $175,000 to a city resident to settle her lawsuit over allegations she was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned in a 2010 drug case.

Patricia Waller claimed Newark police did not have probable cause to arrest her and that officers exceeded the scope of a search warrant when they allegedly found heroin in the basement of her 9th Street home.

In a phone interview today, Waller said she agreed to the settlement because of her poor financial situation, and because she didn’t want to prolong the litigation and “take a chance on coming out with nothing.”

Most of her settlement funds will go toward repairs at the home where she has lived for nearly three decades, Waller said.

“It can get me out of the hole that I’m in,” said Waller, referring to the settlement.

Waller filed her lawsuit in 2012 against the city and 11 officers at the time of the incident. She signed off on the settlement agreement earlier this month, and the settlement is now pending final approval by the city council, according to Waller’s attorney, Edward Rebenack.

The agreement states it is not to be construed as an admission of wrongdoing by any party.

“I think even though the release is going to say there’s no admissions of liability…I think it clearly shows that they recognized the mistakes that they made,” Rebenack said.

Newark officials declined comment on the case.

The arrest occurred on Feb. 4, 2010, when Newark police executed a search warrant at Waller’s three-family home.

At the time, Waller lived on the first floor, while her granddaughter, Rabiyah Sorey, and a friend, Rozita Lassiter, lived in the basement, Rebenack said. Sorey was the target of the police investigation, Rebenack said.

In her lawsuit, Waller argued that the search warrant only allowed police access to the first floor, and that police exceeded the scope of the warrant when they improperly entered the basement residence, where authorities said they found heroin.

Since the drugs were allegedly found in a separate living unit, Rebenack said police did not have probable cause to arrest Waller. She had no knowledge of any drug activity allegedly occurring in the residence, Rebenack said.

“I was like in shock,” Waller said, describing her reaction to being arrested. “My reaction was like, ‘What in the world is going on?’”

Waller, Sorey and Lassiter were ultimately indicted on drug-related charges. In addition, Sorey was charged with making terroristic threats, and Lassiter was charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution.

On Oct. 4, 2010, Waller pleaded guilty to violating a municipal noise ordinance, and the remaining charges were dismissed. The charges against Sorey and Lassiter also were dismissed.

Waller said she was working for the Newark public school system, where she oversaw security guards at city high schools, but was forced to retire soon after her arrest in order to secure her pension.

The publicity surrounding her arrest “was just totally embarrassing,” Waller said.

“I had an impeccable record,” she said.

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