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After filing lawsuit, police dispatcher claims she’s faced retaliation

A Riverhead Town police dispatcher alleges that she has suffered “devastating” effects from trauma caused by the Riverhead Police Department and her superiors there and has been targeted for retaliation since filing a lawsuit in late September, according to court filings.

The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court by Melissa Breitenbach Elco seeks $10 million and claims Riverhead Town and several officials created a “hostile work environment” and allowed “sex discrimination.”

In an affidavit last month, responding to a motion that the case be dismissed, Ms. Elco said she has “been humiliated by my fellow employees and superiors at RPD and certainly treated differently and less well than other employees.”

She alleges that she’s been denied opportunities to participate in interviews of dispatchers she supervises in order to to limit her overtime opportunities, has been refused better assignments than other employees and has been harassed about child custody and her personal relationships. 

The lawsuit names police officer Richard Freeborn as a defendant along with Police Chief David Hegermiller, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, the Town of Riverhead and the Riverhead Police Department. Mr. Freeborn is an ex-boyfriend of Ms. Elco and the father of her eldest child, according to the complaint dated Nov. 3, 2020.

She alleges that her superiors have been spying on her and reporting back to Mr. Freeborn about her personal relationships.

“All of this has nothing to do with my job,” she said in the affidavit.

Harassment from Mr. Freeborn dates back to 2010, according to court filings. Mr. Freeborn allegedly “did everything he could to make [Ms. Elco’s] life miserable, all with the knowledge and approval of the Town Defendants who did nothing to protect [Ms. Elco],” according to court filings. Ms. Elco was hired as a dispatcher in 2005. Her relationship with Mr. Freeborn began in 2006 and ended in 2009, according to the complaint.

Mr. Freeborn, in a court filing last December, denied all the allegations in the complaint. He is represented by the Smithtown law firm Devitt Spellman Barrett, LLP.

“Detective Richard Freeborn is a longtime member of the Riverhead Police Department with an excellent reputation,” attorney Felicia Gross said Thursday. “He denies all allegations made by plaintiff Melissa Breitenbach Elco in this case that he did anything improper or illegal. He looks forward to having his day in court to clear his good name.”

Ms. Elco claims in the affidavit that anxiety and stress from the police department has led her to be “diagnosed with arthritis in my neck, inflammation and possible nerve damage.” She added that she has “been told I also have possible disc damage, muscle spasms and loss of function in my arm.” 

She alleges the department has retaliated against her by losing the health insurance buy back forms she files at the beginning of each year. She says over the last four years, since her complaints first started against Mr. Freeborn, the head of personnel for the police department has “misplaced” her forms. The buy back forms are for employees who do not take advantage of full coverage they are entitled to, according to the affidavit.

“This is money I am entitled to and they are refusing to provide me — obviously to make things difficult for me because of this lawsuit,” she said in the affidavit.

Attorneys for the defendants filed a motion in January to have the case dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required, applicable statutes of limitations and for failing to “state a cause of action as asserted against the Town Defendants.”

A memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss by the attorney representing the town officials, Sayville-based Messina Perillo Hill, LLP, also claims the plantiff’s complaint is “procedurally defective” and “without substantive merit.”

Ms. Elco says in the affidavit that, after filing the lawsuit, “not a single RPD supervisor has asked if there was a way to address my concerns.”

Ms. Elco is represented by attorney Ron Hariri of Manhattan and Aquebogue.

“We are confident our client will prevail and hope her bravery in bringing the lawsuit will provide another nail in the coffin for the culture of discrimination in Riverhead,” Mr. Hariri said.

The complaint alleges that on Sept. 26, 2020, Mr. Freeborn allowed a gathering on his girlfriend’s property against COVID restrictions and endangered Ms. Elco’s daughter. The gathering was a “fundraiser” for an injured police officer and featured hundreds of participants, many of whom were not wearing masks or social distancing.

“The event was not only condoned by Riverhead police, but supported,” the complaint says.

In court filings dated March 2, Mr. Hariri argued that the defendant’s motion should be denied and his client should be allowed to pursue discovery to gain access to disciplinary records and other complaints against Mr. Freeborn as well as other personnel files.

The case is currently awaiting a decision on the motion to dismiss.