FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Heated charges have been levied by a veteran cop who says he was discriminated against because of the color of his skin. The lieutenant scored highest on the chief’s exam and claims he was overlooked for the coveted slot, because his black mayor didn’t want a white police chief.
Needless to say, it is an explosive and highly controversial issue inside Freeport Village Hall.
1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera reports
The police lieutenant, a 21-year veteran of the force, is now suing the mayor on the grounds of reverse discrimination.
“The mayor has systematically demoted and or terminated and or forced to retire male whites and female whites and replaced them with less qualified or totally unqualified minority employees,” Lt. Christopher Barrella told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan on Friday.
Mayor Andrew Hardwick said he couldn’t respond due to the pending litigation, but his village website is chock full of his active participation in the community — a community that is 60 percent minority.
That is part of the broader reason why, his supporters said, he passed over Lt. Barrella, 44, in favor of Lt. Miguel Bermudez in naming the Hispanic man Freeport’s police chief.
“If you make a job decision based upon race, it is illegal,” attorney Amanda Fugazy said.
Barrella argues that with his bachelors, masters and law degrees, FBI training and more than two decades on the force he should have been named chief. He scored No. 1 on the chief exam, while Bermudez placed third.
WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall On The Story
Bermudez doesn’t have a college degree, but some residents said numbers aren’t everything.
“Freeport police — they are great officers; the mayor, he’s a good man and trying to do the best for Freeport,” resident William Pope said.
“I believe Hispanic and African Americans should have a chance, not to be left out,” added resident Christian Ramirez.
“I believe everybody deserves the chance, but not the wrong way,” Jamie Hennessy said.
Barrella, however, isn’t backing down from his belief that he was wronged.
“I love being a Freeport lieutenant and I’m sure I would have loved more to be the Freeport chief,” the lieutenant said. “I feel it is what I earned.”
In August 2010, a white deputy female chief was suddenly demoted and also filed a federal lawsuit claiming the mayor has a “racist and bigoted” agenda. Debbie Zagaja said she was the deputy chief in the Freeport Police Department for three years before being demoted to lieutenant in March 2010. The village attorney said race and gender have never been a factor in personnel matters.
The 24-year veteran of the force claimed she was demoted and passed over for promotion because of her sex and race. Zagaja said she was replaced by a less experienced Hispanic male — who was the department’s most junior lieutenant
The Nassau County Civil Service Commission said law requires the village hire one of the top three candidates. The person must be a lieutenant with at least two years experience in that position.
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