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Ex-Nassau cop wins political retaliation lawsuit

Denis Monette is shown at the Mineola County

Denis Monette is shown at the Mineola County complex on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002. Credit: Newsday / Dick Yarwood

A federal jury has found in favor of a former top Nassau police official who claimed that he was fired in 2009 as retaliation for supporting the county executive campaign of then-challenger Edward Mangano.

After a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, jurors on Friday ruled that the county is liable for damages to Denis Monette, an assistant police commissioner under former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi.

Monette, 65, of Massapequa, alleged that his termination in November 2009 -- shortly after Mangano defeated Suozzi -- was related to his support of the Republican Mangano, including donating money and holding a fundraiser. Suozzi, a two-term incumbent, lost by 386 votes and his administration claimed that Monette, a registered Republican, was fired by then-Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey for budgetary reasons.

"I think the American public is very tired, for lack of better words, of political dirty tricks," said Monette, who noted that it took the jury only about 30 minutes to reach its verdict. "This case showed that there is relief if you're a victim of that."

The jury awarded Monette $150,000 for emotional damages, and Judge Joseph F. Bianco will next set the award for lost wages. Monette's attorneys will argue for more than $1 million in back and future pay.

Nassau's county attorneys, working with an outside firm, argued in court filings that the powers of the politically appointed assistant commissioner job "require party loyalty," making it exempt from the First Amendment protections that Monette cited in his suit.

But in a statement Monday, County Attorney Carnell Foskey said, "It's sad Tom Suozzi's actions continue to cost taxpayers dearly years later."

Suozzi, who was not an individually named defendant, declined to comment Monday.

Monette's attorney Rick Ostrove, of Carle Place, told jurors that Nassau's 2010 budget had been approved already -- with Monette's $109,000 annual salary -- when he was fired following the 2009 election. Mulvey had clashed with his client, but Ostrove said the firing was ultimately a result of Suozzi learning of Monette's support of Mangano.

Monette, who had served 23 years in the police department as a sworn officer, retiring in 1991, was appointed by Suozzi as Nassau's public safety director in 2002, and then to assistant police commissioner in 2003. One of his duties with the police department was coordinating a collaborative local and federal homeland security task force known as STARCOM.

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