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March 2004
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Bethlehem to pay $7.89M Hirko Settlement. Communities put on notice.

Just released in the Morning Call:

Mayor John Callahan on Monday announced that the
city of Bethlehem will pay $7.89 million to settle the John Hirko Jr. federal
civil case, a figure that avoids a potentially higher jury award and one
Callahan believes should prevent the need for raising taxes to cover the
settlement.

Callahan and defense attorney John Karoly Jr. shook hands at the federal
courthouse in Allentown in what amounted to a media photo opportunity. But it
was symbolic nonetheless.

It marked the end of a seven-year ordeal that began when Hirko was shot and
killed and his residence was set on fire in a drug raid…

Callahan said as part of the agreement the city would seek a $5 million grant
for additional training for the police department.

Background on the Hirko case is available here and here and here and here.
This follows closely on the heels of a $5 million
settlement
in the Tulia, Texas case.
Both of these cases could have ended up with massive jury judgments that could
bankrupt a city, so the settlements are really relatively small.
This is a wake-up call that communities need to be aware of the tactics being
used by drug task forces in their area. A mistake by them could end up with
significantly increased taxes. Citizens cannot afford to sit back and assume
that drug task forces work properly. In fact, the nature of these task forces
makes them an extreme high-risk for communities to employ, which is why such tactics
should only be used as an absolute last resort (such as hostage situations), not for everyday drug busts.

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