Excessive Force, Internal Affairs and Attempted Bribery
Settled May 2010
On June 13, 2006, Newark Police Department (NPD) Officer Michael Walker beat plaintiff Cornell Pendergrass at 175 First Street in Newark by repeated punches to the face, which ultimately required doctors to wire Mr. Pendergrass' jaw shut for several weeks. Co-plaintiff Minisiah Gbor attempted to videotape the officers beating other people in the vicinity. When they saw her videotaping, Walker and his partner, Officer Larry Brown, assaulted her as well. When Mr. Pendergrass filed an internal affairs complaint about the incident, an acquaintance received a threatening telephone call in retaliation for the complaint. Some weeks later, Walker attempted to bribe Mr. Pendergrass to "forget about everything." On or about May 19, 2010, the plaintiffs' federal lawsuit (No. 08-cv-2936) was settled for $150,000. Adding insult to injury, the City reimbursed Walker's lawyer an additional $39,037 in taxpayer money for legal fees incurred in defending the case.
This was not Officer Walker's only brush with the law. In 2009, he was indicted for making false statements that led to an innocent man being misidentified in a photo array. (Indictment No. 09-08-2191-I). NPD's internal affairs unit initially suspended him after their indictment, and then reinstated him. In April 2010, their trial ended in a hung jury. Retrial information is unknown.
Note: None of Pendergrass's or Gbor's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. While the parties freely agreed to settle this case, all that is known for sure is that Newark, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pendergrass and Gbor $150,000, rather than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial—it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened—or what consequences, if any, came to the individuals accused in the suit.