Long Island Police Lieutenant Claims Mayor Biased Against White Officers

Lt. Chris Barrella claims in a federal lawsuit he was passed over for promotion because he was white

By Frank Eltman
|  Thursday, Jan 26, 2012  |  Updated 6:52 PM EDT
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L.I. Lieutenant: Mayor Biased Against White Officers

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A white New York police lieutenant claims in a federal lawsuit that he was passed over for promotion to chief of his village department despite having superior qualifications than the Hispanic officer who got the job.

It is the second discrimination lawsuit filed against the village of Freeport and its mayor by a police officer in the past 17 months.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, Lt. Chris Barrella claims that Mayor Andrew Hardwick, who is black, wanted to promote a black or Hispanic to chief when the incumbent chief retired in November 2010. He said although he had submitted a resume to the mayor and was assured he would be interviewed for the job, he was stunned when he heard on Thanksgiving that Hardwick had named Miguel Bermudez to the post.

"This has been beyond an ordeal," Barrella told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. "I have done everything by the numbers since the day I got on the police department and to be summarily dismissed based on my race is just so disheartening it's scary."

Telephone calls to Freeport village officials seeking comment were referred to the village attorney.

"We have not yet been served with the litigation papers; however the village does not comment on pending litigation," Howard Colton said in a statement.

An officer at the police department took a message for Bermudez, but indicated he would be out of the office until Monday.

Barrella said while he scored No. 1 on the civil service examination to be chief, Bermudez was ranked No. 3. He also said he has a bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as a law degree while Bermudez has no degree.

In August 2010, another Freeport officer, Debbie Zagaja, claimed she was demoted from deputy chief after requesting a separate women's locker room. Her attorney said Thursday that the discrimination case is still pending in federal court.

Her suit alleges that Hardwick, who was elected in April 2009, has been "systematically terminating and demoting qualified, experienced white supervisors and employees, replacing them with unqualified and less-experienced black and Hispanic employees."

Barrella's attorney, Amanda Fugazy, said her client's lawsuit is very similar to Zagaja's.

Located on Long Island's south shore, about 25 miles east of New York City, Freeport's police department has about 90 officers. The village population in 2010 was 42,860, according to the U.S. Census.

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