HEMPSTEAD—An East Quogue woman is seeking $70 million in damages from Suffolk County and Southampton Town law enforcement agencies, charging that she was wrongfully arrested and detained after taking photographs near the entrance to the Air National Guard base in Westhampton last July with two guns and dozens of rounds of ammunition in her car.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip last Thursday, July 29, the federal lawsuit also alleges that Nancy Genovese, 54, a mother of three who has lived in East Quogue for more than three decades, was the victim of assault and malicious prosecution when she was detained by authorities on the shoulder of Old Riverhead Road for nearly six hours on July 30, 2009, before being arrested. The criminal charge was later dropped.
The litigation charges that the arresting officers—who included Southampton Town Police Lieutenant Robert Iberger and Suffolk County Undersheriff Joseph T. Caracappa, among others—repeatedly referred to Ms. Genovese as “a right-winger” and “tea bagger” because of her political beliefs. “They saw the cross around my neck and asked if I had been to any tea parties,” she said. “I went to a tea party—I told them that.”
Ms. Genovese said she is a registered Democrat, though Suffolk County Board of Election records do not list her as registered with any political party, according to Suffolk County Democratic Party Commissioner Anita Katz.
Ms. Genovese, who was returning home from a shooting range on the night of her arrest, said she stopped near the base’s entrance to take photos of the decommissioned helicopter there for a patriotic “Support Our Troops” website that she had been working on at the time. Authorities said they found 500 rounds of ammunition as well as an XM-15 assault rifle and a shotgun inside her car.
Ms. Genovese noted that both weapons, which are legal firearms, were properly stored inside her car, and that the responding officers illegally searched her car—a point also made in the lawsuit. The litigation also notes that there were closer to 140 rounds of ammunition in her car.
“To be labeled a terrorist isn’t right,” Ms. Genovese told reporters during a press conference held last Thursday morning at the law office of her attorney, Frederick Brewington, in Hempstead. “I’m a patriot,” she added, becoming emotional almost immediately after addressing the media.
Neither Lt. Iberger nor Mr. Caracappa returned calls seeking comment this week.
When reached earlier this week, Southampton Town Attorney Michael Sordi said that he had not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment further. Christine Mamalfi, attorney for Suffolk County, said that while she has not yet seen the lawsuit, the county will “vigorously defend itself and the taxpayers in court.”
Ms. Genovese, who says she is retired, was eventually charged with one count of criminal trespass in the third degree, a misdemeanor, and spent five days in Suffolk County Jail in Riverside, including four days on suicide watch, before posting $50,000 bond. The charge was dropped by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in November.
The lawsuit itself outlines 14 specific complaints that she is leveling against the defendants, and states that Ms. Genovese, who says she suffered both physical injuries and emotional distress during the ordeal, is seeking $5 million in damages per count—a grand total of $70 million. If she is successful, Ms. Genovese said she would invest all of her money into her website, patriotlegaldefense.com. She said it is a resource for those who are wrongfully arrested.
“The dollar amount is representative of the importance of Ms. Genovese’s case,” Mr. Brewington said. “What a jury would award is yet to be seen, but we’re allowed to put an amount in.”
He explained that the case will probably not go to trial for at least a year. The defendants have 30 days from the filing of the lawsuit to respond to the charges before the proceedings can continue, according to Mr. Brewington.
“Ms. Genovese has decided to engage in what will be a long process to seek justice,” he said.
According to Ms. Genovese, officers interrogated her for six hours near the entrance of the Air National Guard base before arresting her on the trespassing charge. She said she was also questioned by officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, but they did not charge her with a crime.
“They kept asking me why I was there, what about the guns and why I was taking the pictures,” Ms. Genovese said. “I had no intention of going into the base.”
Once taken into the custody of local authorities, Ms. Genovese said her legs were shackled together and she was told that she would be charged with being a “terrorist.”