A Westhampton Beach police officer suspended since 2014 has filed a $75 million lawsuit against several Westhampton Beach Village officials and Suffolk County authorities, according to court papers filed last week in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.
Joseph Pesapane, who has been a police officer for 10 years, including with the New York Police Department, alleges in the lawsuit that he was “illegally suspended without pay” in January 2014 after being charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly stalking his former fiancee.
The Suffolk County district attorney’s office dismissed the case against Pesapane in July 2016, the suit states. Afterward, Pesapane’s Manhattan-based lawyer, Eric Sanders, said he sent a letter to village police department officials asking that Pesapane be reinstated with back pay and benefits retroactive to February 2014 and to “immediately” schedule a disciplinary hearing if the village intended to go forward with disciplinary charges against the officer.
Village officials “ignored his demands,” according to the lawsuit.
Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore said Friday that the village has not been served with the suit.
“If the complaint is similar to the notice of claim we previously received, I can tell you that the allegations are without merit, and that the village will vigorously defend itself against these baseless claims,” Moore said.
Moore is named as a defendant, along with Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, former Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller, Westhampton Village Police Chief Trevor Gonce and former village Police Chief Raymond Dean.
According to the minutes from a Jan. 29, 2014, special meeting of the Westhampton Beach board of trustees, the board voted 4-0 to appoint a hearing officer for a disciplinary hearing of an unnamed village employee and to suspend that employee without pay for up to 30 days “pending the final determination of those charges.”
Sanders said Friday that a disciplinary hearing has yet to be scheduled. He cited a state civil service law that says an officer or employee suspended on misconduct or incompetency charges may not be suspended for more than 30 days.
“They never responded back, they never brought him up on charges,” Sanders said. “If they claim he’s such a bad cop, bring him to trial and discipline him. Why haven’t they done that yet? It’s because they have nothing against him.”
According to the lawsuit, the village had also suspended Pesapane on Oct. 21, 2009, after Internal Affairs investigators — who were investigating an incident earlier that year involving the reported theft of another village police officer’s handgun — determined Pesapane and a fellow officer lied about their alleged involvement in the incident. Pesapane was reinstated on Dec. 2, 2009.
Sanders said his client is seeking damages for lost compensation and emotional distress. Westhampton Beach Village and Suffolk County are also named in the lawsuit, but Sanders said Pesapane is not seeking compensatory damages from them.