LOCKPORT – David J. Mongielo, who was slammed to the pavement by a city police officer after he objected to a 2013 traffic safety checkpoint, has been paid $40,000 by the city’s insurance company to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Mongielo was roughed up by Officer William E. Jones and was left with bruises on his face and knees.
This allegedly happened after Mongielo, making his second trip through a checkpoint on Lincoln Avenue, asked Jones, “Is this Nazi Germany?” and pulled out his cellphone to record the encounter.
“I think Dave deserves some credit for standing up to what he thought was an illegal search,” his attorney, James M. Ostrowski, said Saturday.
Mongielo was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and harassment.
In March 2014, a City Court jury found him not guilty of those charges but convicted him of using a cellphone while driving, a result that Ostrowski on Saturday called “absurd,” since he said Mongielo didn’t pull out the phone until after he had stopped. A charge of driving with a suspended registration was dismissed during the trial. Mongielo was assessed a fine and surcharge totaling $238.
Jones testified that Mongielo repeatedly refused to show his license, registration and insurance card and refused to exit the vehicle. Mongielo contended that he was pulled from his pickup truck and slammed to the pavement so hard that a shoe flew off. Mongielo testified that Jones placed his knee on the back of Mongielo’s head and repeatedly slammed his face against the pavement.
This happened while Mongielo, who owns an auto repair shop, was locally controversial at the time because of his five-year battle with the Town of Lockport over his violations of the town ordinance barring flashing electronic signs. That ended in July 2014, when Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III rejected a 10-day jail term a town justice tried to impose, but upheld a $750 fine.
Mongielo also has run unsuccessfully for town supervisor and county legislator.
“We alleged an illegal stop, false arrest and malicious prosecution,” Ostrowski said. The original claim also charged assault and battery.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the attorney for the city’s insurance company, Julie P. Apter of Buffalo’s Goldberg Segalla law firm, made the deal on the civil rights lawsuit without obtaining the city’s approval. But he said New York Municipal Insurance had the right to do so, given that the settlement was far below the city’s coverage limit of $1 million per incident.
“I stand by our officers,” Ottaviano said. “I think this is one of those cases where the carrier weighed the cost of defending the matter.”
Ostrowski said Mongielo might have left some money on the table – the original lawsuit, filed in June, sought $1.75 million in damages – but he would have had to go to trial to get more.
“Neither side’s really happy with the settlement, but that’s the nature of the beast,” Ostrowski said.
Ottaviano said the city’s insurance policy says that if the company wants to settle a case and the city refuses, the city, not the insurer, would be liable for paying the entire amount of damages if the jury decides against the city.
“I have to defer to defense counsel. They’ve done a good job in the past,” Ottaviano said.
Asked whether the payout to Mongielo would drive up the city’s insurance premiums, Ottaviano replied, “Given the dollar amount, I’d say no.”