Document, Document, DocumentGloucester Township, New Jersey just settled an excessive force suit initiated against Patrol Officer Kevin Thyne. The complainant’s mother sued almost two years after the incident on October 8, 2009.  The incident occurred on September 9, 2007 when her son, Eric E. Thompson, was 17.

The complainant was seeking in excess of $500,000. This matter was settled out of court for $20,000. How did this occur?   Kevin Thyne documented the incident and his actions from start to finish.

The lawsuit indicates that Thyne “attacked Thompson for no apparent reason and pushed him to the curb.” It goes on to accuse the officer of dragging Thompson to the hood of the police car and throwing him to the ground.” The settlement closed out a frivolous action.   The township would be in another position if the incident had not been documented by the officer and subject to a police department internal review.

Court documents submitted by the township indicated Thompson “failed to comply with instructions to step away from the vehicle when Thyne was conducting a motor vehicle stop. This led to Thyne charging Thompson  with resisting arrest as the officer attempted to handcuff him.”

Other accusations are that Thyne canceled an ambulance call. The accusations state that  Thompson “hit his head on the ground several times” during the incident.   The suit further alleged that Gloucester Township failed to properly train and supervise Thyne.

These allegations would have caused Gloucester Township a great deal of money if any of it could have been proven. This incident is another example how of important it is to establish and document the facts at the time of the incident. When the facts are made a part of the official record, all the accuser can do is point a finger and suggest unfounded wrongdoing as is the case here.

Gloucester Township Patch obtained the settlement agreement after filing a request through the state’s Open Public Records Act. The $20,000, out-of-court settlement is not an admission of guilt on the part of the township or Thyne.

Police Chief W. Harry Earle provided the following email statement regarding the 2007 incident.”The Gloucester Township Police Department Professional Standards Unit (Internal Affairs) investigated this incident, and the investigation found the actions of Officer Thyne were justified, legal, and proper, and that he acted within the guidelines, rules, and regulations of the Gloucester Township Police Department. He was exonerated of any allegations of improper action,” Earle wrote. “Additionally, the juvenile defendant in this case, who was charged by Officer Thyne with 3rd Degree Resisting Arrest, was tried in Camden County Superior Court, Family Part, and found to be an adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to nine months probation, anger management counseling, and other fines and penalties.”

The steps taken here by Gloucester Township not only demonstrated the importance of documentation, they also speak well of this department’s ability to police itself with the initiation of an internal affairs investigation.  In time, the IA investigation supported the facts as documented by the arresting officer.

In November 2010, Thyne was promoted to the rank of sergeant.   Some people might ask, “if the officer didn’t do anything wrong why was $20,000 spent?” That is the wrong perspective.  Instead, due to proper actions of the police department  $499,980 was protected.

If officers do not document it, it did not happen. Every case has the possibility of turning into something unforeseen in time. Document, document, document!

I’d like to hear what LET readers think…

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Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor.  He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executive officer. He is an ILEETA and ICAP member. Jim mentors the next generation of LEO’s by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.