Family of Killed Ramapo Worker, Lenape Member Wins $2.1M Verdict in New Jersey
Written by: Steve Lieberman The Journal News
November 30, 2011
The family of a former Ramapo town worker killed by a New Jersey park police officer has won a $2.1 million award from a Bergen County jury.
The civil court jurors found that Chad Walder used unnecessary force when he shot and killed Emil Mann during a April 1, 2006, confrontation outside Ringwood State Park.
Walder, now retired, was acquitted of criminal charges of reckless manslaughter in 2009 by a Superior Court jury at the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack.
Mann, 45, of Monroe and a member of the Ramapough Lenape Indian tribe, died nine days after suffering two gunshot wounds.
"It's pretty clear the jury found that the officer acted unreasonably when he shot Emil Mann, but lied repeatedly about his actions and Emil Mann," said attorney Nick Brustin, who represented the family in the lawsuit.
The trial lasted about three weeks and the civil jury deliberated for two hours before returning its verdict Monday, Brustin said.
The second phase of the trial began Tuesday with the jury being asked whether the Mann family should be paid punitive damages for their loved one's death and, if so, how much.
Brustin said the jury deliberated the question Tuesday evening but hadn't yet reached a decision. Deliberations are expected to continue today.
Mann's three sons and other tribe members were in court for the trial and verdict. Mann had worked as a heavy-equipment operator for Ramapo.
The shooting occurred during a barbecue near Stag Hill, outside the state park in Ringwood.
Violence ensued after Walder tried to stop tribe members from riding ATVs in the park, which is illegal.
Otis Mann, unrelated to Emil Mann, admitted in court last year that he grabbed Lt. Kelly Gottheiner of the state park police by the hair. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault on a police officer.
Walder rushed to her aid, at which time he confronted Mann and shot him. Walder claimed he shot in self-defense, an argument that led to his acquital on criminal charges.
The standard of evidence is lower in a civil trial, and Mann's family has filed a multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuit against New Jersey and the park police.
While Walder is the only defendant in the case, New Jersey's Tort Claims Act allows the family to collect its damages from the state of New Jersey, said Lydia Cotz, an attorney representing the Ramapough Indian tribe and family.
"We knew that a different jury would decide the facts differently from the criminal trial, and that is exactly what happened," Cotz said.
"The jury's decision was the proper outcome," she said, "and we now have some closure for the family and the Ramapough community."