Five bartenders at a popular Farmingdale restaurant have sued Nassau County and several police officials, claiming that police have been trying to drive the restaurant out of business through a campaign of harassment and humiliation.
The suit, filed this month in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, says that police led by Lt. James Brown and Sgt. Frank Discala have repeatedly raided That Meetball Place and on one occasion arrested the bartenders on a baseless charge of pre-mixing liquor. The Nassau district attorney’s office later dismissed the charges.
During processing, the suit says the female bartenders were strip-searched in a bathroom by a female officer while Brown stood by the open door.
“The officers in question are assigned to a proactive unit that addresses issues with underage drinking and opioid abuse,” Nassau police Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said in a statement. “With that said, the Nassau County Police Department stands behind our officers. Since there is pending litigation on this case, we cannot comment any further.”
A county spokeswoman did not respond to several messages. A spokesman for the Nassau district attorney’s office said he could not comment because the cases are sealed, which happens after an acquittal or a case is dismissed.
The suit, filed by attorney Anthony La Pinta of Hauppauge, seeks unspecified damages for what the suit says was false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and other claims. La Pinta did not respond to requests for comment. The bartenders who filed the suit are Erin Whelan, Sarah Garcia, Danielle Read, Patrick Odierna and Brendon Lafferty.
In addition to Brown and Discala, the suit also names as defendants Lt. Ronald Giumenta, Lt. Thomas McGowan, Officer Robert Galgano, Officer Daniel Concannon, Officer Jeremy Sepulveda, Fire Marshal John Kelleher Jr. and several officers whose names are not known.
According to the suit, at about 11:20 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017 — one of the busiest days of the year for a bar and restaurant — about 10 officers under the command of Brown and Discala came in, displaying their badges, to do a liquor license check, The suit said That Meetball Place was already subjected to such checks “far more than any other similar establishment in the Farmingdale area.”
The suit said during the check, Brown “verbally abused and cursed” restaurant manager Ralph Reale and ordered him placed under arrest for failing to have proper documentation to hire security guards. The suit said Reale did have such documentation and the charge was later dismissed.
While Reale was in a police van, the suit says he heard Brown order officers to “go in and --- this place up.” Officers then falsely accused the bartenders of pre-mixing liquor in violation of state liquor laws and falsely said some bottles were contaminated with insects, the suit says.
Officers did not seize the bottles or have them tested, but left them behind to be served to future customers, according to the suit.
Brown ordered the bartenders arrested and searched behind the restaurant’s rear entrance, the suit says. They were then taken to the Second Precinct in Woodbury and handcuffed to a wall.
Even though officers had searched all the bartenders outside the restaurant, Brown ordered the female bartenders searched again. This time, they were forced to partially disrobe and urinate while Brown stood by the open door, the suit says.
After the charges were dismissed during the summer of 2018, the suit said Brown orchestrated another “license check” on the restaurant on Nov. 15, again emptying the restaurant of customers.