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Freeport woman plans to sue Nassau, Freeport officials over alleged assault

Felita Dobbins of Freeport spoke Tuesday at her attorney Kenneth Mollins' Hauppauge office about her lawsuit against Nassau County, alleging a sheriff punched Dobbins in the face. (Credit: Newsday / Cecilia Dowd; James Carbone)

A Freeport woman plans to file a $1 million civil rights lawsuit against Nassau County and Freeport officials, claiming a deputy sheriff punched her in the face during a verbal altercation partially captured on video from her doorbell camera.

Felita Dobbins, 46, of Lena Avenue, has filed a notice of claim against the county, the Nassau sheriff's department, Freeport Village and individual police officers and sheriff's deputies. In it, she alleges that when she tried to report the alleged assault to police, they attempted to cover it up. 

Dobbins, in a sometimes tearful interview Tuesday at the Hauppauge office of her attorney Kenneth M. Mollins, said she was home with her children and grandchildren Dec. 30 about 8 p.m. when two sheriff's deputies came to her door — apparently to serve legal papers on her daughter connected to a paternity suit.

Dobbins said she answered the door and one of the deputies threatened to arrest her. She said she began screaming at him, swearing and calling him names. “I said some nasty words I shouldn’t have said; My emotions got over me because of certain things I’ve been through in life," said Dobbins, referring to past interactions with law enforcement and her sexual assault in prison. 

Video footage from Dobbins' Ring doorbell camera shows the deputy dropping papers in the home and leaving, but as Dobbins continues to shout, the pair returns a few seconds later.

“He ran back and hit me with the cuffs and tried to hold the door with his other hand,” said Dobbins, who said she went to the hospital for treatment.

The video, which only shows the outside of the home, does not show the deputy's hand coming into contact with Dobbins, who was standing inside her home at the door when she said she was struck.

"Clearly, you see him come up to the door, you see him throw the papers, you see him step towards her on the video, and you see his fist go back. Then Ring only shows you what's in front of the doorbell. The contact occurred in the house behind the doorbell," Mollins said. "So he assaulted her in her own home."

Mollins said the deputy should be charged and he contacted the Nassau County district attorney's office Monday. "We learned of these allegations yesterday and will review them," said Miriam Sholder, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. 

Captain Michael R. Golio, a sheriff's department spokesman, said in an email: "This matter is under investigation. Nassau County does not comment on anticipated or pending litigation." Freeport Village also denied the allegations.

Dobbins, who has a criminal record, served several years in prison in upstate Bedford Hills in the 1990s in connection with a Manhattan robbery. She was sexually assaulted by a guard while there, a case that became part of a successful fight to expand state law to make it a crime for a prison guard to have sex with an inmate, according to a 1996 New York Times article.

Dobbins said Tuesday that Freeport police attempted to prevent her from filing a police report about the alleged assault at her home, but she ultimately did. 

“We believe the Freeport police are looking to protect this deputy sheriff, who clearly, based on the video, acted improperly, acted illegally, and assaulted my client," Mollins said.

Freeport Village Attorney Howard Colton said: "While it is policy to not comment on pending litigation, we believe this action is absolutely frivolous and will be vehemently defended by the Village of Freeport."