Dover Police Sgt. Michael Pier, one of three officers being scrutinized for the weekend arrest of a Morristown teen whose encounter was captured on video and shared via social media, was sued in federal court by a local man alleging he was roughed up during a 2015 arrest.
The town’s insurer paid Christopher Kotz an undisclosed amount in 2017 to settle his civil claim that his face was disfigured from a pummeling by then-Detective Pier and police officers Anthony Liguori and Andrew Milonas on Feb. 24, 2015.
On Monday, Pier was placed on paid leave, along with two other officers whose identities have not been disclosed, while the state Attorney General’s Office reviews their arrest early Sunday of Cyprian Luke, 19.
They sought Luke on warrants stemming from his February indictment on a charge of aggravated assault against a girlfriend.
Videos shot Sunday by Luke’s friend show him on the ground, with a policeman’s hand on his neck, taking jabs to the head as officers order him to stop resisting arrest. Demonstrators have protested what they consider excessive force; police charged Luke with resisting arrest and giving a false name.
In the 2015 incident, Kotz, who was a burglary suspect, acknowledged fleeing from police. Stumbling into a snowbank, he then submitted to arrest without resistance, he contended.
“Nonetheless, Detective Pier jumped on Kotz’s back and punched him in the face approximately eight times while yelling ‘stop resisting!'” his lawsuit said. The other officers allegedly joined in, striking Kotz’ body, “bending his arms behind his back, and addressing him with demeaning language.”
Facial injuries included an orbital bone fracture, a “broken and/or seriously injured jaw,” and a shattered cheekbone, according to the lawsuit. Surgeons installed a titanium plate to hold together the left side of Kotz’ face, the suit said.
The town denied the allegations, and the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund agreed to pay Kotz a “modest settlement” that was not an admission of police misconduct, Eric Harrison, a lawyer whose firm represented Dover, said on Wednesday.
Kotz’ suit contended Dover police routinely inflicted “unreasonable force on persons suspected of committing criminal offenses, particularly where the suspects, as in this case, momentarily flee from arresting officers… as a form of ‘pay back.'”
A recent NJ.com report found that Dover police used force at a higher rate than most New Jersey departments between 2012 and 2016.
Kotz also sued Morris County and an undersheriff of the Morris County Jail, asserting he sustained “permanent facial disfigurement” because that facility waited three weeks before sending him for surgery. The disposition of that claim could not be determined on Wednesday.
In a separate case, Dover in 2012 paid $75,000 to the mother of a 23-year-old motorcyclist who died after colliding with Pier’s police vehicle.
Alan J. Seitz was leading police on a high-speed chase through several towns. The mother claimed Pier, whose rank at the time was police officer, ignored a stop sign and drove in front of her son, leading to his death.
The settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing, according to NJ Civil Settlements.