BY MELISSA LAMONTANARO
Rockland County’s motion to dismiss a complaint filed against itself and Sheriff Louis Falco alleging politically retaliatation against corrections officers for publicly supporting Falco’s opponent Richard Vazquez in the 2015 Rockland County Sherriff’s election, was denied by the United States District Court, Southern Distict of New York on July 27, 2017.
Plaintiffs John Cocuzza, Jacquelin Millien, Greg Esposito, Stefan Tchor, Larry Lans and Melissa Seminara, Rockland County Corrections Officers and members of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association of Rockland County, or “COBARC” allege that after he was re-elected in 2015, Falco retaliated against them by filing disciplinary charges against them for publicly supporting his opponent, Richard Vazquez. Cocuzza, Tcor, and Seminara said they were charged for “common practices” such as failing to supervise inmates on suicide watch, nodding off on duty, and keeping loose log book entries, even though they were never previously disciplined or warned and even though Falco’s supporters who did the same did not have charges filed against them.
Esposito, however, did not publicly support Falco’s opponent and claims a supervisor explicitly told him he was being charged so that Falco could deny he was retaliating against Vasquez supporters. Cocuzza, Esposito, Tchor, and Seminara each resigned separately from their positions as corrections officers between May 2016 and July 2016 and signed exact terms agreeing to abandon any claims they may have made against Falco in exchange for having criminal charges dropped against them.
Falco argued Cocuzza, Esposito, Tchor, and Seminara knowingly and voluntarily signed the agreement. However, United States Distict Judge Vincent L. Briccetti rejected Falco’s claim after the plaintiffs argued that they signed the agreement under duress, fearing the embarrassment, legal costs, and criminal outcome of not signing.
Falco also argued that the plaintiffs waited too long to repudiate the agreements of their contract and have collected their benefits. Judge Briccetti, however, stated that it is unclear in New York State what constitutes a “prompt” response.
Falco was elected sheriff of Rockland County in November 2011 and re-elected in November 2015.