Michael McDevitt says he was beaten by Suffolk Police Officer Glenn Tarquinio — during a landlord-tenant dispute involving his son’s girlfriend. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

Suffolk County has been found liable for $750,000 in damages for the malicious prosecution of a Deer Park man who was allegedly beaten by police during his 2014 arrest — a case that jurors found showed a pattern of misconduct in one of the state's largest police departments.

A federal judge is now tasked with prescribing a remedy for what the jury found — which also included a departmental failure to properly supervise and train its officers. Such a remedy could include federal monitoring and civilian oversight, according to the lawyer who brought the case.

Following a trial in federal court in Central Islip, the jury on Monday found the county police department maintained a “custom, pattern, practice or policy” that deprived Michael McDevitt, 61, of his constitutional rights, and that the department failed to supervise and train the officers involved.

The findings come under the Monell doctrine, which says a municipality can be held liable for an officer’s actions that violated the constitutional rights of an individual if it was the result of an official department policy or custom or because the police department was deliberately indifferent to training or supervising the officer.

 WHAT TO KNOW

  • Suffolk County has been found liable for $750,000 in damages for the malicious prosecution of a Deer Park man who was allegedly beaten by police during his 2014 arrest.
  • The jury also found the county police department maintained a “custom, pattern, practice or policy” that deprived Michael McDevitt, 61, of his constitutional rights.
  • A federal judge will now seek to remedy the jury’s findings. He could order sanctions, including federal monitoring and civilian oversight, according to the lawyer who brought the case.

These were the first successful Monell claims for police misconduct in Suffolk County since 1991, according to McDevitt’s attorney Cory Morris, who has an office in Central Islip.

“The second half of the trial is the one that means the most — to try to change the policies that are going on still,” said McDevitt, 61, referring to the successful Monell claims. “People are still getting taken advantage of by the police department. There has to be change, because it’s all still going on behind the scenes. It has to stop. Cover-ups, the beatings, people forced into pleading guilty for stuff they know they’re not guilty on, but just to save the county, to save their face.”

In arguing the Monell claims, Morris cited the conviction of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, who was sentenced in 2016 to serve 46 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and depriving a person of civil rights for beating a handcuffed Christopher Loeb inside a police precinct. Loeb, then a heroin addict, broke into Burke’s department-issued SUV and stole a duffel bag containing sex toys and police union cards.

“Former Chief of Police Burke … was responsible for creating and maintaining a policy where excessive force was employed, tolerated, and endorsed and for which certain Suffolk County police officers who used excessive force were neither investigated, reprimanded, subject to retraining or faced any repercussions for their unconstitutional violations of civil rights,” Morris wrote in court papers.

The jury rejected McDevitt’s claims of false arrest and excessive force.

The Suffolk police department declined to comment Tuesday. The county is expected to appeal.

MaryKate Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said in an email: “As this litigation is still pending, we are unable to comment.”

McDevitt, a construction worker whose father was an NYPD officer who died in the line of duty, filed suit in 2016 against the county, its police department and several police officers including Glenn Tarquinio, alleging the officer beat and dragged him at a home in Holbrook.

Suffolk County Police Officer Glenn Tarquinio, a defendant in a...

Suffolk County Police Officer Glenn Tarquinio, a defendant in a federal civil lawsuit that ended with the jury awarding the plaintiff $750,000. Credit: Law offices of Cory H. Morris

McDevitt alleged he was helping his son’s girlfriend during a landlord-tenant dispute when police arrived and Tarquinio, who has since retired, repeatedly punched him and held him at gunpoint. McDevitt was initially arrested and charged with the felony assault of a police officer, but the charges were dropped, according to Morris. The lawsuit also alleged that Tarquinio and his fellow officers were exonerated by the department’s Internal Affairs Unit.

Tarquinio, who worked for the NYPD before becoming a Suffolk cop in 2002, could not be reached for comment. Tarquino, who was paid $84,933 in 2021 for working through July 30 of that year, also received $239,625.00 of termination pay, according to Newsday’s payroll database.

Morris said he’s recommended that U.S. District Judge Gary R. Brown appoint a federal monitor to remedy the department’s practices and “as a good start,” the department should adopt the People’s Plan, an activist-created police reform proposal that includes the creation of a civil review board to independently investigate police misconduct claims in both the Nassau and Suffolk police departments.

“It’s very, very difficult to prove, but we did it,” said Morris, of the Monell claims. “Tarquinio did this, just like James Burke did this. It was a policy."

The department has been subject to federal monitoring in the past. Earlier this year, the county reached a settlement with Manhattan-based civil rights organization LatinoJustice over allegations of widespread discrimination against Latinos, which had also resulted in the U.S. Department of Justice monitoring of the police department under a consent decree since 2014.

“There has to be change,” said Morris. “No one is overseeing the police. When they do something wrong, who’s to reprimand them?”

Morris decried the several years it took for the case to make it to trial, saying the lengthy timeline negatively impacted his ability to call certain witnesses.

Legis. Robert Trotta, (R- Fort Salonga) who was subpoenaed, but was not permitted to testify after the county objected, said he would have “painted a picture of widespread corruption” if he had taken the stand.

“Ninety-nine percent of all the cops are good, hardworking cops,” Trotta said. “It’s unfortunate that a small percentage and a corrupt hierarchy has given the Suffolk County Police Department a bad name. I wouldn’t be surprised if the judge takes action.”

Morris said he also sued the police department in state court to gain access to the officers’ police misconduct files, but was denied, despite the state legislature’s repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a, which concealed the records from public view.

“It’s no longer the lawmakers, they repealed the law, they’ve acted,” said Morris. “Why do we still not have the police misconduct records? How can this be possible? The cross-endorsed judges are protecting the police. The independent judiciary of Suffolk County is not independent.”

Newsday and the New York Civil Liberties Union has also filed suit against police departments on Long Island in an attempt to gain access to police misconduct records.



 

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