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Police dispatcher files $10M lawsuit alleging ‘hostile work environment, sexual harassment’

A Riverhead police dispatcher is suing Riverhead Town and several town officials for $10 million, claiming there they created a “hostile work environment and sexual harassment” at the police department.

Melissa Breitenbach Elco, who has been a town dispatcher since 2005, filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court on Sept. 30.

It names as defendants Yvette Aguiar, both as town supervisor and as police commissioner; The Town of Riverhead; David Hegermiller, both individually and as police chief; the Riverhead Police Department, and Richard Freeborn, who is an officer in the department.

The summons filed alleges that Mr. Freeborn and other members of the department have harassed Ms. Elco by “threatening comments, stalking and inappropriate and malicious threats.” It also alleges that she has faced retaliation by being ostracized and discriminated against in an attempt to intimidate her. That has “negatively affected her health, job performance, position and status at the RPD and caused her to suffer severe and unwarranted emotional distress which has detrimentally affected plaintiff’s health and wellbeing,” the summons says.

It also notes that she had been previously honored for her service and that her father was a “decorated Riverhead Town police officer for over 30 years.”

The summons alleges the conduct was “intentional and/or malicious and reckless and includes, but is not limited to a pattern of offensive acts and threats or assaults, intimidation, mockery, insults and interference with work performance.”

She is seeking “compensatory damages, punitive damages, and actual damages for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress,” the summons says. 

The lawsuit seeks “not less” than $10 million in damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs.

In 2013, Ms. Elco and two town police officers were honored by the Town Board for their role in saving the life of a toddler who was choking.

Ms. Elco is represented by attorney Ron Hariri, who in a statement Thursday said the “Breitenbachs are decorated police veterans.”

He added: “But no officer or official is above the law.”

Mr. Hariri declined further comment on the allegations in the summons.

Ellen Hoil of South Jamesport, who is an attorney, questioned the Town Board about the resolution Tuesday hiring legal council to defend the town in the lawsuit. She said there was no indication in the agenda packet as to what the litigation was about, so she looked it up.

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said there is no complaint filed with the lawsuit at this point, and it is just what’s known as a summons with notice.

The Town Board voted unanimously to retain the law firm of Messina Perillo Hill LLP of Sayville as special counsel to the town. 

“Once this (resolution) passes, we will be in position to get some further clarification on the actual complaint,” he said.

“At this point, it’s just a summons with notice,” Mr. Kozakiewicz said.