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Lloyd Harbor accused in $10M rights suit

A jury is hearing a $10-million federal civil-rights lawsuit brought by a Lloyd Harbor resident accusing the village of trying to suppress his freedom of speech.

Jeff Bartels, 53, a lifelong village resident and frequent speaker at board meetings between 2005 and February 2008, alleges village officials and police tried to intimidate him because he routinely pointed out issues such as poor management of roadway drains, sagging telephone and electric cables, and unnecessarily cutting down trees.

The complaint, filed in March 2008 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District, contends village officials ignored his suggestions. When he continued to speak out, the complaint claims, village officials instructed police to attend board meetings in an attempt to "restrain him from peaceably and justifiably speaking out in favor of safety and against village inaction."

The case is being heard before Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson in Central Islip. It began March 7. Named in the suit are Mayor Leland Hairr, village highway superintendent George McCabe, village police liaison and village trustee Jean Thatcher, Police Chief Charles Flynn, Det. Vincent O'Shaughnessy, Sgt. Renald DiFonzo, police Officer Christopher Grimm and village attorney John Ritter Jr.

In tearful testimony Thursday, Eileen Schulz, the village clerk, recounted a couple of incidents in which she said Bartels followed her in a truck and once when she requested village police attend a board meeting after receiving a telephone call from Bartels.

Schulz and Maureen Dilner, the village deputy treasurer, also testified about a Sept. 1, 2006, verbal dispute between Bartels and McCabe over stop signs placed on village roads. "I was scared," Dilner said. "I was afraid Mr. Bartels would become violent."

That confrontation led to a harassment charge against Bartels, which was dropped. All of the witnesses testified they had never seen Bartels act violently.

In other testimony this week, McCabe recounted the Sept. 1 dispute, saying Bartels cursed at him several times and threatened to have his job taken away. Gail Devol, the village deputy clerk, testified about a March 27, 2007, incident at which Bartels was accused of distracting drivers along West Neck/Lloyd Harbor Road with a sign affixed to his truck during a tree-maintenance operation. The sign, which Bartels' attorney called a political protest, was determined to be a safety hazard, and Bartels left.

Andrew Campanelli, Bartels' attorney, pointed out apparent discrepancies between written statements, depositions and testimony on the stand.

Attorneys on both sides declined to comment.

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