Former jail doctor's lawsuit opens in Central Islip

Dr. Patricia Dillon, Suffolk's former acting director of

Dr. Patricia Dillon, Suffolk's former acting director of public health, filed her suit in November 2007, after she was suspended. Photo Credit: John H. Cornell Jr.

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Either Dr. Patricia Dillon was a victim of retaliation by her employers, who suspended and fired her after she began documenting what she saw as abuse of Suffolk inmates, or Dillon took revenge on her superiors for ordering her to treat inmates at the Riverhead jail.

Federal jurors in Central Islip heard those two opposing opening statements at the start of a trial in U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt's courtroom. Dillon, Suffolk's former acting director of public health, filed her suit in November 2007, after she was suspended.

Her attorney, David Feather of Garden City, told jurors that she was disciplined "for exercising her free speech right," because she began inquiring about shoddy inmate care. She claimed prescriptions weren't filled, serious injuries weren't treated and the jail neglected even acute medical needs.

But Megan O'Donnell, who argued the case for Suffolk County, said Dillon was retaliating because she didn't like her new assignment, a far cry from the position she held before as a top administrator who mapped out public health strategy, spoke to the media and gave presentations before the county legislature.

O'Donnell said that Dillon set out to undermine her superiors, former Suffolk Health Department Commissioner Humayan Chaudhry and Vincent Geraci, medical programs administrator at the jail.

"This trial is not about free speech or the First Amendment," she said. "This trial is about the plaintiff's revenge against the defendants."

She was transferred to the jail in August when Chaudhry, who was appointed head of the county health department in April 2007, moved her.

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On Sept. 4, 2007, she began inquiring about whether inmates were getting prescribed medication and being treated for trauma, and she began photocopying medical records.

She testified Wednesday that she did that to discuss the files with her boss, Geraci, but also to be sure she had copies that could not be altered -- a practice she said was common in the unit.

Dillon was suspended on Sept. 13, 2007, after she declined to return the copies and her bosses said she was insubordinate for not obeying a direct order. They also initiated disciplinary proceedings against her, including filing a complaint with the state's Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which can suspend licenses of physicians.

A hearing officer sided with the county after a 2008 hearing, ruling she was a qualified doctor and refuting the county's claim that she was incompetent. But he ruled that she was "insubordinate," upholding the suspension. She was terminated in early 2009.

But Wednesday, Feather put into evidence a letter from the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which closed its investigation finding Dillon did nothing wrong. Dillon, who testified she had never been disciplined before this incident, continues on the stand Thursday.

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