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East Quogue teacher sues over her role in lockdown drill

An East Quogue Elementary School teacher who played the “pretend perpetrator” in a lockdown drill is suing the school district and the Town of Southampton after, she says, town police threw her to the floor and handcuffed her.

Teacher Christine Capozzola, 46, of Westhampton, agreed to play to part of a mother in a custody battle with her spouse in a January 2016 drill, according to the complaint, screaming and demanding to see her children in the school’s main office.

School staff played their part, hitting a panic button to alert the Southampton Police Department that the drill was underway. But police didn’t respond until the school principal called 911.

Though Capozzola had been told earlier she wouldn’t be touched, three police officers “brutally and violently” threw her down and yanked her arms behind her to handcuff her, the lawsuit claims.

Only when the police in charge of the drill arrived did they release Capozzola, according to the suit, and one of the officers then told her that “I was two seconds away from tasing you.”

The complaint doesn’t say if the three officers who responded knew Capozzola was acting in a drill or not.

Capozzola’s attorney, Michael Finkelstein of the Bohemia firm Finkelstein and Feil, will ask for at least $150,000 in damages for excessive use of force, false imprisonment, false arrest and due process violations.

“I spoke with the chief of police and the police are investigating the allegations,” said Southampton Town attorney James M. Burke. “The town itself, through our insurance company, is also looking at the allegations.”

The Southampton Town police chief is Steven Skrynecki, the former chief of department for the Nassau County Police Department.

In addition to the town and the school district, the complaint names as defendants the Southampton Town Police Department, acting district Superintendent and school principal Robert Long, police officer Lisa Costa, who was supervising the drill, and four other unnamed officers.

Joshua S. Shteierman, of the Smithtown firm Devitt Spellman Barrett, which represents the town, police department and Costa, declined to comment.

The attorney representing Long and the school district, Caroline B. Lineen, could not be reached Wednesday night.

The defendants’ attorneys on June 30 requested that the case, first filed in April in Supreme Court, Suffolk County, be moved to United States District Court, Eastern District of New York.

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