A suspended Westhampton Beach Village Police officer is seeking $75 million in damages from both former and current village and police department representatives, as well as several Suffolk County officials, alleging in a federal lawsuit that they have repeatedly violated his civil rights by refusing to reinstate him.
As he threatened to do several months earlier, Joseph Pesapane, who has been on unpaid suspension from the department since February 2014 following multiple suspensions, on Tuesday afternoon filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. In addition to accusing the plaintiffs of corruption and orchestrating multiple cover-ups over the past decade, the litigation charges that Mr. Pesapane continues to be punished because he is an outsider, having transferred from the New York Police Department, instead of being part “of the political machine that generally selects police officers to hire as a political favor.”
As a result, he is seeking a jury trial and $75 million in damages from the defendants, a list that includes the village, both Mayor Maria Moore and former Mayor Conrad Teller, current and former police chiefs Trevor Gonce and Raymond Dean, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke; Mr. Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison this fall for a series of crimes. Also being sued are the village’s appointed law firm, Lamb & Barnosky of Melville, and Mr. Pesapane’s former attorney, Reynold A. Mauro of Schlachter & Mauro.
The lawsuit comes roughly five months after Mr. Pesapane’s new attorney, Eric Sanders, filed a notice of claim against the village, alerting them to the pending suit. Village Attorney Richard Zuckerman, another listed defendant, said he could not comment when reached Wednesday, explaining that he had not been served yet.
Mr. Pesapane had a rocky tenure with the Village Police and was suspended in 2009 after investigators with the Suffolk County Internal Affairs Bureau determined that he and a fellow officer, Michael Bruetsch, lied during an investigation prompted when another officer’s handgun went missing at police headquarters. In the claim, Mr. Pesapane states that the charges brought against him were politically motivated. Mr. Bruetsch was later allowed to retire with full benefits.
Mr. Pesapane’s most recent suspension occurred in February 2014, five months after he was arrested in Port Jefferson and charged with fourth-degree stalking, a misdemeanor—though that charge was dropped last July by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office when prosecutors could not substantiate the allegation. It was after his 2014 arrest that Mr. Pesapane requested that the village indefinitely delay his disciplinary hearing.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated Mr. Pesapane’s civil rights through false arrest, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, misconduct by attorneys, and freedom of speech violations.
On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerman, who has represented both the village and its police department in the past, said both would vigorously fight the lawsuit, insisting that allegations made in the notice of claim remain unsubstantiated. On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Moore clarified that while Mr. Zuckerman is a labor law specialist, the village's insurance company has designated attorney Devitt Spellman for the case moving forward.
“The village’s opinion about the frivolous nature of this claim hasn’t changed since the last time that he made them in August,” he said, later adding, “It’s a good thing that Santa Claus went back to the North Pole or he would sue him, too.”