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Hempstead police official: ‘I’m being forced out’

Willie R. Dixon, until recently the second-in-command of Hempstead Village’s police department, plans to retire on July 22 — the result, he says, of being stripped of his rank.

Dixon, who spent about 30 years on the force, was not reappointed as assistant police chief after his contract expired on May 31 and was downgraded to lieutenant. Village officials said they took action because of a district attorney probe into Dixon’s actions on the force.

Dixon said village officials were trying to retaliate against him for filing a discrimination lawsuit against them.

“I am retiring because I am being forced out,” said Dixon, who was the police department’s most senior black officer.

Dixon refiled a federal lawsuit on June 11 against the village, Mayor Wayne Hall Sr., Hempstead police chief Joseph Wing, and village trustees Henry Conyers, Perry Pettus and Don Ryan. The original suit was filed in August 2010.

The complaint details alleged discrimination dating back to 2003 against Dixon, who claimed he was unfairly treated because he’s black and outspoken against what he says is racism in the force.

“He hopes to get the damages that he is due for being subjected to a hostile work environment because of his race,” said Eric Sanders, Dixon’s lawyer, who said his client would seek at least $1 million.

Dixon’s refiling dropped from the lawsuit Nassau County and the district attorney, which had launched a criminal probe against him in 2009. Dixon called it a “bogus burglary” case stemming from a 2008 incident in which he ordered two subordinates to enter a resident’s apartment and remove a barking dog.

“Mr. Dixon’s allegations against the district attorney’s office were meritless,” said DA spokesman John Byrne.

During the probe, Wing relieved Dixon of his authority to issue orders to subordinate officers and assigned him to desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation. No criminal charges were ever filed and the case was closed.

“I sat in my office for almost two years even after the DA found that I had done nothing wrong,” Dixon said. “They were looking and trying to find something to hang on me.”

Dixon claimed village officials were upset he refused to ask federal investigators to suspend a different probe into the discovery of a noose in a station house locker room in September 2007. The case is currently inactive, said a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

Village officials said in a statement that Dixon’s claims about discrimination on the force are “without any factual foundation, and the facts are to the contrary.” They pointed out that Hall, former mayor James Garner, and two of the trustees being sued are African-American. The police chief is Asian-American and white, and Ryan is white.

“The conduct is the issue, not the color of the officials,” Sanders said.

Sanders added the police force should better reflect the community.

About 50 percent of the 121-member police force are minorities, officials said. Nearly 50 percent of village residents are African-American and about 44 percent are Hispanic, according to census data.

Village officials also said Dixon “moved steadily up the ranks” of the police department during the time he alleges discriminatory treatment. He was appointed deputy chief in May 2007 and assistant chief in March 2008, during which time he reported to Wing, they said.

But Dixon, the second African-American to serve among the top Hempstead police brass, said he was just a “figurehead.”

“That’s exactly what they were using me for,” Dixon said.

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