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Lawsuit: Parks officer sexually harrassed employee for years

A top state park police officer on Long Island subjected a female civilian employee to years of sexual harassment and threats of retribution, a federal lawsuit said.

Around September 2014, Joseph Reyes, the defendant, began insisting that plaintiff, Laurie Beni, date him, according to the complaint. Beni, a longtime employee of the state parks department, worked at a Long Island regional office in Suffolk County, the lawsuit says.

Reyes continually would not accept her refusals, telling her at one point, “You are to obey me. If you’re not on the same page, your head is going to roll,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges Reyes insisted on painfully rubbing the plaintiff’s shoulders with lotion, and once, her legs, and at one point locked the door to his office and forced her into a massage chair.

The defendant could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn on Jan. 29. Court records did not reveal an attorney for Reyes.

Beni is suing Reyes and the parks department, saying they created a hostile work environment and violated her constitutional rights by failing to supervise Reyes, allowing the abuse to continue until he retired, the complaint says. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

No damages were specified.

Randy Simons, a parks department spokesman, said by email the department referred Reyes to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office for “potential criminal prosecution” after finishing its own probe on June 15, 2016.

That was less than one month after it received a tip “alleging impropriety,” he said, which spurred an “immediate inquiry” by the parks police Internal Affairs Unit.

“Allegations regarding Joseph Reyes’ sexual harassment of his assistant were uncovered by investigators during the course of an interview on May 24, 2016,” said the spokesman for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

One day later, he said, Reyes was relieved of his command and reassigned to modified desk duty at an upstate facility while the investigation continued.

“His retirement in June 2016 did not stop our internal investigation,” Simons said.

Adding the department tolerates no sexual harassment or discrimination, he declined to comment further due to the federal complaint.

A spokeswoman for the Suffolk district attorney’s office had no immediate comment.

According to the lawsuit, Beni feared losing her livelihood, and as the abuse continued, she became physically afraid of Reyes, describing how he once tore an officer’s Stetson hat to shreds.

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