Nassau Democrats are questioning a county decision to pay legal fees for a now-retired police sergeant involved in a politically charged arrest that forced former Police Commissioner Thomas Dale to resign two years ago.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said last week that Democratic lawmakers will oppose providing legal counsel for former Sgt. Sal Mistretta, who served a civil subpoena on Randy White while the campaign worker was in police custody.
White subsequently sued Nassau in federal court for $46 million, claiming police violated his civil rights and falsely detained him as part of a conspiracy with political power broker Gary Melius and others to change his testimony in an election case.
Abrahams noted Mistretta was off duty when he served the subpoena on behalf of third-party county executive candidate Andrew Hardwick, whose campaign was financed by Melius.
"The subpoena was totally political," Abrahams said. "He wasn't doing it in any type of police capacity. He was doing it for a private client. I don't see how we can indemnify that."
According to the county administrative code, a county employee must be "acting within the scope of his public employment or duties" to be indemnified.
Deputy County Attorney Pablo Fernandez notified the federal court in May that Nassau's police Indemnification Board had agreed to defend Dale, former Chief of Detectives John Capece, who was also forced to resign, and Mistretta, who retired after 26 years on the police force amid a district attorney's investigation of the White case.
County officials declined to comment on the decision by the board, which is composed of acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, Sheriff Michael Sposato and Dan McCloy, finance director for the GOP-led legislature.
"The County does not comment on ongoing litigation," County Attorney Carnell Foskey said in an email last week.
"It's outrageous," said White's attorney, Frederick Brewington of Hempstead. "We know these people were pushed out, forced to retire. This just goes to show that they can take care of their own when they want to take care of their own and they still want this boy to suffer."
The controversy began when Democrats challenged nominating petitions for Hardwick, who was seeking to run on a third-party We Count ballot line in 2013. Democrats contended his candidacy was intended to siphon votes from former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who was challenging incumbent Republican Edward Mangano.
White testified he had been paid per signature, a violation of elections law. Hardwick denied the allegation, but his petitions were later thrown out.
After White testified, Melius called Dale to say the Hardwick campaign wanted to file a perjury charge against White, according to an investigation by then-District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
At the direction of Dale and Capece, three police officers pulled White off a public bus in Roosevelt on the Saturday after he testified and arrested him on an unrelated $250 misdemeanor warrant. White was taken to central police detention where an off-duty Mistretta served him with a subpoena from the Hardwick campaign, ordering him to appear in court that Monday.
Mistretta said in an interview afterward that he had been asked by Hardwick campaign worker Brandon Irizarry to give "a piece of paper" to White, but said he didn't know it was a subpoena. Both Irizarry and Mistretta were the public contacts for an Oct. 28 Mangano fundraiser that year.
Rice found no criminal wrongdoing by Dale or Capece, but said she found the service of the subpoena "troubling." The district attorney's office last week said that part of the probe is ongoing.
Abrahams raised the indemnification issue last week when the legislature's Rules Committee was asked to increase to $475,000 a contract with the law firm of Lewis Jobs Avallone Aviles to defend the county against White's allegations and other cases. Chief Deputy County Attorney Lisa LoCurto said separate law firms will be hired for Dale, Capece and Mistretta.
Abrahams said he did not object to indemnifying Dale and Capece because they were acting in their public roles. But when the Mistretta contract comes up for approval, "we will question everything," Abrahams said. "We don't see a reason why he should be indemnified."
Neither Mistretta nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.