LONG ISLAND, NY – A Long Island cop was awarded $1.35 million after winning a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the Village of Freeport that claimed he was passed up for a promotion to police chief because he is white.
A federal jury sided with Lt. Christopher Barrella’s claim that ex-Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick’s decision to appoint a less-qualified Hispanic lieutenant as the town’s top cop was racially motivated.
“I am very gratified that the jury ruled that I deserved to be chief of police,” Barrella said in a statement released by his legal team Friday.
“It has been a long and trying process, but I always had faith that if we could present our case to a jury of my peers they would see that I was discriminated against.”
Barrella’s attorneys had argued that Hardwick, who is black, deliberately demoted several white officers in the department and forced others into retirement after being elected mayor, replacing them with less-qualified black and Hispanic candidates.
Barrella, who has a masters degree in public administration and a law degree from St. John’s University, claimed the mayor snubbed him for the top job in favor of then-Lt. Miguel Bermudez — who only has a high-school diploma and who was one of the most junior lieutenants on the job.
The 23-year veteran also finished with the highest score on the police chief’s exam, while Bermudez came in third. Still, Hardwick appointed Bermudez without even reviewing Barrella’s impressive resume — which included special training at the FBI academy — or interviewing him for the job.
“He was really bent on putting in a minority in the position of chief of police and he pushed Lt. Bermudez up the ranks and into the chief of police spot,” said Barrella’s lawyer, Amanda Fugazy.
“The mayor had made numerous racial-based statements about [Bermudez] being the first Hispanic chief of police. He said many times that he wanted a government that looked more like the village.”
When Barrella originally filed the suit in January 2012, the defendants tried arguing that Bermudez is a “white Hispanic” and therefore no discrimination occurred because Bermudez is of the same race as Barrella, according to his attorneys.
Neither Hardwick nor his attorney could be reached about Wednesday’s verdict.
Prosecutors also played up the personal relationship between Hardwick and Bermudez, who worked for many years together as Freeport firefighters.
“The court finds that a jury could reasonably conclude that Hardwick’s decision to promote Bermudez, and his concomitant failure to consider the Plaintiff for any command Staff position, resulted from discrimination on the basis of race,” US District Judge Arthur Spatt wrote during the trial.
From The New York Post