The daughter of a man fatally shot by a Suffolk County police officer last year in Manorville has filed an $85 million federal lawsuit against the county, alleging her father was the victim of excessive force and a police department that has demonstrated a systematic failure to prevent police misconduct.
The shooting of Jesse J. Bonsignore, 44, who was shot and killed by a Suffolk police officer on May 20, 2021, following a confrontation, is the subject of an ongoing investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip, seeks damages on behalf of plaintiff Carmela Bonsignore — who has been named the administrator of her father's estate — for wrongful death, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, false arrest, battery, assault, fabrication of evidence, denial of access to courts, excessive force and deprivation of federal rights. The suit named as defendants Suffolk County, its police department, Suffolk police Officer James Skidmore, individually and in his official capacity — identified as the officer who shot Bonsignore — and five other unidentified officers, and seeks a jury trial.
The suit said Skidmore fired "at least two gunshots" striking Bonsignore, who had a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in the torso and neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Bonsignore’s stepfather,Tom Dovale, previously told Newsday that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"Officer Skidmore seized and confined decedent [Jesse Bonsignore] to and around his vehicle," the suit said. "Officer Skidmore then violently, brutally and viciously assaulted and battered Mr. Bonsignore, inflicting physical injury upon him, evoking terror and fear, and, depriving Mr. Bonsignore of his constitutional rights."
The suit added that the department has permitted a "pattern and practice" of improper conduct by police officers and the county has "failed to maintain a proper system for oversight" of alleged misconduct.
"The county of Suffolk has failed to respond to the continuing and urgent need to prevent, restrain and discipline police officers that deprive citizens of their civil rights," the suit said.
The police department has refused to provide Bonsignore's family with Ring camera video from the house where the 911 call that preceded the shooting was placed, the lawsuit alleges. It has also denied requests for information on Skidmore's disciplinary history and whether he was suspended or disciplined as a result of the fatal shooting, and the county medical examiner's office has not released Bonsignore's autopsy report, citing the ongoing investigation, according to the lawsuit.
The "refusal to provide any information or explanation as to how or why her father's life was summarily ended," according to the suit, has "exacerbated" Carmela Bonsignore's pain, suffering and grief.
Spokespersons for both the county and the police department did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit Friday.
The police department said that Skidmore, who began working as a Suffolk police officer on June 4, 2001, is currently employed as a Seventh Precinct officer. The department didn't provide information when asked about the status of the Internal Affairs investigation into Bonsignore's killing and whether the officer had been suspended as a result.
Reached by phone, Skidmore said "no, thank you," when asked for comment. Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, the union representing the department's police officers, declined to comment on the suit, citing its pending nature.
Garden City-based attorney Lori A. Marano, who filed the suit, did not respond to a message seeking comment. Carmela Bonsignore also could not be reached for comment.
Jesse Bonsignore's mother, Joyce Dovale, declined to comment when reached by phone.
Suffolk police, in a news release a day after the shooting, said a Seventh Precinct officer, who was not identified, was dispatched to Bauer Avenue in Manorville at about 10:45 p.m. for the report of a "suspicious person lying on the back seat of a vehicle."
The release said that after the officer located the vehicle and the man, "the officer engaged him and a struggle ensued. The officer fired his gun, striking the man."
The police department also said in its initial news release that "a knife was recovered from him," but did not provide additional details. An October 2021 report issued by the attorney general's office summarizing the office's investigations into officer-involved fatal shootings noted that Bonsignore "was armed with a knife."
According to the lawsuit, Bonsignore was working as an Uber driver at the time of his death, was unarmed and was "resting in his car and place of business" when Skidmore confronted him. Bonsignore wasn't a threat and wasn't doing anything illegal, the suit said.
The suit said that after Skidmore fired two shots at Bonsignore, the defendants "failed to provide lifesaving interventions."