In response to a public records request seeking any nondisclosure agreements in use in the city, Haverhill officials pointed The Eagle-Tribune to a $120,000 settlement resulting from an arrest at a laundromat in 2012.
Elizabeth Centeno, a Bradford woman, sued the city of Haverhill, the Police Department and several of its officers for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as payment of her attorney’s fees in April 2015. The lawsuit was settled about a year later, but Centeno had to sign away her right to talk about the experience, according to court documents.
Centeno claimed she was choked and slammed to the ground by a Haverhill police officer who arrested her after she fought with a laundromat manager over some quarters lost in a washing machine.
A portion of the settlement labeled “confidentiality” requires everyone involved in the case to keep “contents, terms and conditions” of the agreement secret. The settlement is signed by Centeno and City Solicitor William Cox.
On behalf of the city, attorney Michele Randazzo responded to the newspaper’s public records request with an explanation that Centeno’s case is unique. Nondisclosure agreements are not generally sought from people who sue Haverhill, according to Randazzo.
“Generally, when nondisclosure language is occasionally included in an agreement settling outstanding legal claims, it is at the request of the claimant,” she said.
Centeno could not be reached to clarify who requested the confidentiality clause included in her settlement.
Clauses and contracts binding victims to secrecy have been a hot topic in Massachusetts municipalities and at the state level. State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, has been vocal in her pursuit to ban all nondisclosure agreements and release those who have already signed them.
In compiling Haverhill records that include stipulations of secrecy, Randazzo said she searched electronic files dating back 20 years. She said Centeno is alone in having signed such an agreement.
Randazzo said the city paid an insurance deductible of $25,000 for the case.
According to the lawsuit, Officer David Cox choked Centeno and threw her to the floor of the laundromat before arresting her on the day in question.
Cox went to Academy Laundry, South Main Street, on April 29, 2012, at 9 p.m., after police received a call from the manager. Centeno was arguing with the manager over losing several quarters in a defective washing machine, according to the suit.
The suit says Cox believed Centeno was intoxicated and asked her name and identification.
When Centeno refused to give Cox the information or allow him to place her, her daughter and niece, who were said to be with her at the time, in protective custody, Cox choked Centeno against one of the washing machines before slamming her to the ground, the suit says.
Centeno was then arrested, the suit says. It says she was taken into custody by other officers who arrived at the laundromat.
Centeno was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, disorderly conduct, possession of a class E drug, and reckless endangerment to children.
According to the suit, four of the charges were eventually dismissed, while one was continued without a finding.
The claims listed in Centeno’s lawsuit against the city include use of excessive force, denial of medical care, deprivation of free speech and expression, municipal liability for constitutional violations, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, respondent superior liability and negligent supervision.
Before the case could reach a jury, which is what Centeno originally requested, the $120,000 settlement was reached.