An East Quogue woman who was awarded $1.1 million by a federal jury five years after being arrested for taking pictures outside a military base says the ordeal has inspired her to help others who are wrongfully accused.
Nancy Genovese, 58, said Friday she was treated like a terrorist during and after her arrest in 2009 for snapping pictures outside the Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach.
She was charged with trespassing and jailed for four nights in lieu of $50,000 bail. The misdemeanor charge was later dropped.
Genovese said she now wants to start a foundation to help people fight wrongful arrests.
"This was the ultimate rude awakening," she said. "At any given time, anybody can be arrested and can be held on excessive or no bail."
The Central Islip jury deliberated for 1 1/2 hours on Thursday before delivering the verdict, said her attorney, Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead.
The $1,112,000 was awarded to the mother of three for pain and suffering. There will be a second trial to determine if there should also be punitive damages, Brewington said.
Genovese, a retiree with no prior arrests, sued the Town of Southampton, Suffolk County and more than a dozen law enforcement officers in 2010 for false arrest, civil rights violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A county spokeswoman declined to comment Friday, citing pending litigation. Southampton was dismissed from the suit last year.
Genovese was arrested by a Southampton officer who questioned her while she was taking pictures of an inactive helicopter outside the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York National Guard.
The photographs were meant for a website she was creating in support of American troops, she said.
Suffolk police and sheriff's deputies responded. In her car they found a shotgun, an assault rifle and several hundred rounds of ammunition; but she had the guns and ammunition legally and had been at a shooting range earlier that day.
Genovese was held in the Riverhead jail, where she was strip-searched and determined to be a suicide risk. The ordeal left her with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Brewington said.
Genovese Friday called the verdict a "sigh of relief." Now when she learns of an arrest, she said she withholds judgment.
"I give everybody the benefit of the doubt. I want to see facts," she said.