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Suffolk violated cop’s rights, ignored harassment claims, jury says

A federal jury awarded a retired Suffolk police lieutenant $155,000 in damages, after determining this week that the county and two former top police officials failed to investigate his sexual harassment claims and violated his First Amendment rights.

The jury ruled in favor of William F. Hasper Tuesday following an eight-day trial. The county was found liable for $100,000 in compensatory damages. Retired Deputy Commissioner Roger Shannon was found liable for $35,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and retired Chief of Department Robert Moore was found liable for $20,000 in damages.

The victory in the eight-year court fight comes a month after Hasper and the county were cleared in a separate federal lawsuit concerning sexual harassment claims brought by a female police officer and a clerk, who both worked for Hasper when he was head of the police court liaison bureau at the Cohalan Court complex in Central Islip.

“I’m very elated both juries saw what was really going on and found in my favor,” said Hasper, 51, of Smithtown, who retired on disability in 2012 after serving 19 years. He added the damages levied against Shannon and Moore “send a message to the department that such behavior cannot be tolerated.”

County Attorney Dennis Brown said he has not yet talked to the trial attorney who handled the case, but said the county has two months to make a motion to challenge the verdict or have it set aside.

Ordinarily, the county covers damages incurred by sworn police officers, Brown said.

Hasper, a West Point graduate and former U.S. Army airborne ranger who served in the first Gulf war, rose in the department ranks and served as a volunteer driver for Steve Levy’s first county executive race in 2003. But he began having difficulties with the department from 2007 to 2010, while in the court unit.

As head of the unit, Hasper maintained that Police Officer Laurie Salerno initiated in numerous examples of inappropriate sexual conversation with court staff, lawyers and himself. Hasper said his supervisors failed to properly deal with the issue and tried to get him to alter reports about the problems.

Salerno and clerk Elizabeth Cosgrove later filed suit against the county and Hasper claiming a hostile work environment. Those claims were rejected in a three-week jury trial that ended March 29.

John Ray, who represented Salerno and Cosgrove, said he does not believe the county “prevailed on the merits,” but it was a “hard case to prove damages.”

In Hasper’s suit, the jury found in favor of his claim that the county and his superiors failed to address his sexual harassment complaints about Salerno because he is a man.

The jury also found that Hasper’s First Amendment rights were violated after he was called in for interviews when the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office was investigating Levy. That probe led to a 2011 agreement with prosecutors in which Levy turned over his $4 million campaign fund and did not seek re-election over “serious issues” with his fundraising.

After Hasper was brought in for questioning, the jury determined that the county and police officials retaliated against him by investigating him, even though union official and late Presiding Officer William Lindsay told police officials to back off because Hasper had become a whistleblower protected by county law.

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