SHENANDOAH – The Shenandoah Borough Council does “not object” to the settlement of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a Shenandoah man who died while in custody of borough police in 2004.

The vote was held at Monday’s meeting to settle the lawsuit out of court for $ 600,000, with council President Leo Pietkiewicz, Vice President Brian Conroy, John Szczyglak, Paul J. Holland, Andrew Szczyglak and Robert Kulpowicz approving the motion. Abstaining was Raymond Nestor, who is the father of former police Chief Matthew R. Nestor, who along with former police Capt. Jamie Gennarini and the Borough of Shenandoah, were named in the lawsuit.

The civil lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Nov. 27, 2006, by Carlos J. Vega, Shenandoah, and Genevieve F. Victor, Hazleton, parents of the late David L. Vega. The reaching of a settlement was announced July 5 by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III.

The lawsuit alleged that David Vega was killed by borough police while in custody, with his death made to look like a suicide. The parents had asked for unspecified actual and punitive damages in excess of $ 150,000, plus attorney fees and costs, from the defendants, alleging numerous violations of their son’s legal rights, and demanded a jury trial of the case.

In February, Jones ruled that the Vega family had presented enough evidence that justified a trial in the wrongful death lawsuit and scheduled the case for the August trial term. The position of the defendants was that David Vega did commit suicide, which was the determination of a county deputy coroner.

The $ 600,000 settlement will be paid through the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, an insurance pool in which the borough is a member.

Before the vote, borough solicitor Michael A. O’Pake explained the importance of not objecting to the settlement.

“We have been notified by the counsel for our insurance carrier that they have reached a tentative settlement for a payment of $ 600,000 to the plaintiffs,” O’Pake said. “The Borough of Shenandoah has a right to object to that settlement, if it so desires.”

O’Pake explained that there were potential consequences to rejecting the settlement.

“The repercussions would be (for council’s objection) that the insurance carrier would place $ 600,000 into an escrow account and the trial would proceed,” O’Pake said. “If there is a judgement entered against the borough for anything over $ 600,000, it would be the borough’s responsibility to pay the excess judgement. The difficulty in this case lies in the fact that even if the judgement against the borough would be one dollar, the borough would be responsible for the attorneys’ fees, which could exceed $ 1 million.”

Since the borough could be incurring a “significant risk” by objecting to the settlement, O’Pake said, he recommended that council should “not oppose or not object to the settlement as recommended by the insurance carrier.”

Making the motion was John Szczyglak, seconded by Kulpowicz.

In other business, council voted 6-1 to appoint Councilman Andrew Szczyglak as the borough’s new mayor. Szczyglak fills the vacancy left by former Mayor Michael Whitecavage, who resigned effective July 1, citing a change in his job that would limit his time to perform his mayoral duties.

Also nominated for the position was Donald Segal, former councilman/vice president. Kulpowicz was the lone vote for Segal.

After the vote, Szczyglak thanked the council for giving him the opportunity to serve as mayor and is ready to work with Officer-in-Charge Capt. George Carado and the other police officers.

“Over the past four years, it’s been tough on the Shenandoah Police Department, but over the last year or two, things have started to get back in order,” Szczyglak said. “There is a better working relationship with everyone over there (at the police station). I’m going to ask council to work with me as I work with them in keeping the Shenandoah Police Department working properly.”

Szczyglak concluded his comments by tendering his resignation from the council, which was accepted unanimously. The council will appoint a replacement for Szczyglak at a future meeting.

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