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Freeport cop claims reverse discrimination

Freeport Police Lieutenant Christopher Barrella filed a lawsuit

Freeport Police Lieutenant Christopher Barrella filed a lawsuit against the Village of Freeport and its Mayor, Andrew Hardwick, charging that Mayor Hardwick discriminated against the officer based on his race. (Jan. 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

A Freeport police official who claims he was passed over for the department's No. 1 post because of reverse discrimination has filed a lawsuit against the village and its mayor.

Freeport Police Lt. Christopher Barrella says he should have been promoted to police chief in November 2010 and alleges Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, who is black, discriminated against him because he is white. Barrella filed the suit against Freeport Village and Hardwick in District Court in Central Islip.

"This was not a fight I wanted, but I had no choice but to take it on," said Barrella, 44, of Kings Park, who has served on the force for 21 years, nearly five as lieutenant.

"We have not yet been served with the litigation papers," village attorney Howard E. Colton said in an email. "However the Village does not comment on pending litigation."

Barrella claims Hardwick, who took office in April 2009, wanted to promote a minority candidate to run the 88-member force after the November 2010 retirement of chief Michael Woodward, who is white. Barrella said he was the most qualified candidate for the $188,600-a-year job, not current chief Miguel Bermudez, who is Hispanic.

Barrella scored No. 1 and Bermudez No. 3 in the chief exam administered in March 2010, said Barrella's attorney, Amanda Fugazy of Glen Cove.

Karl Kampe, executive director of the Nassau County Civil Service Commission, said the law requires that the village hire one of the three top-scoring candidates. The person must be a lieutenant with at least two years in the position, Colton said. Bermudez, who joined the department in 1986, became a lieutenant in November 2008 and was made chief in November 2010.

Barrella "was overlooked simply because of his race," said Fugazy, adding Barrella was never interviewed for the position even though he had expressed interest. "The mayor was bent on hiring a black or Hispanic person to the position."

Barrella said he holds bachelor's, master's and law degrees. He also has command-level emergency management training and received special training from the FBI's National Academy in 2008, he said.

In contrast, Barrella claims, Bermudez doesn't have a college degree.

"What is going on is a total injustice," said Barrella, who has three young children. "I tell my children that education and qualifications are everything. How can I look at them in the eyes and tell them otherwise?"

Freeport has 42,860 residents who are 40.5 percent white, 33.3 percent African-American and 41.7 percent Hispanic of any race, according to 2010 Census figures.

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