A young man wrongly accused of arson by a Stockertown police officer will receive $175,000 as part of a legal settlement with the borough.
The settlement between Zachary Handley and the borough was agreed to Oct. 17, 2017, according to the online docket for the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania.
The docket doesn’t disclose the amount of the settlement, but the borough released the settlement document in response to a right-to-know request filed Wednesday by lehighvalleylive.com.
Handley missed out on a normal high school experience, holidays with his family and time with his friends when he was sent to a juvenile boot camp, according to his lawsuit.
He will turn 24 years old on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. He once lived in Moore Township but now lives in the first block of Belvidere Street in Nazareth, his lawsuit says.
Handley was charged in December 2007 with arson. Although he didn’t start the fire, police officer Joseph Straka badgered him until he confessed, according to the lawsuit.
Straka told him that if he confessed he’d be able to spend Christmas with his family. Instead he was adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile court system and in custody of juvenile authorities for 15 months.
The only witness who put him at the crime scene was Karla Dewey, a resident in the building that burned. Dewey was later charged with multiple arsons herself, which cast doubt on whether her story concerning Handley was credible.
When he returned to Nazareth Area High School after boot camp, he was ridiculed by peers, who called him a “fire starter.” He turned to drugs and alcohol to escape, he told lehighvalleylive.com in 2013.
The borough’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment. Handley’s attorney, Mark Loevy-Reyes, said he could confirm the settlement amount but couldn’t comment beyond that.
This article was originally published on lehighvalleylive.com