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Former New York State Troopers Win Federal Lawsuit In Evidence Scandal « CmaTrends

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Two former state troopers have won a federal lawsuit against the state police and the agency’s former superintendent after claiming they were discriminated and retaliated against during an evidence-handling scandal.

On Thursday a jury in White Plains federal court awarded $2 million to Seamus Lyons and $1.25 million to Noel Nelson, their lawyers said, as well as $5,000 each in punitive damages against Joseph D’Amico, former state police superintendent.

Nelson and Lyons sued the state police and D’Amico in 2015, alleging they were made to be scapegoats for cocaine and marijuana that went missing from an evidence locker years earlier, despite signs that another state trooper was likely responsible.

Former New York State Police Troopers Seamus Lyons, left, and Noel Nelson, right, hold plaques during awards ceremonies at the Haverstraw Elks Club in 2012. The two filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department onTuesday, May 12, 2015, claiming discrimination and that they were scapegoated for missing evidence from Troop K barracks in Hawthorne.  Former New York State Troopers Win Federal Lawsuit In Evidence Scandal « CmaTrends Former New York state troopers win federal lawsuit in evidence

Nelson, who is Black, claimed he was discriminated against and was targeted and suffered disparate treatment because of his race. Lyons, who is white, claimed he was retaliated against because he supported Nelson’s claim.

They both denied any wrongdoing and resigned after being brought up on disciplinary charges as the scandal unfolded.

“Nothing can ever make up for the profound injustice done to our clients, but this verdict certainly goes a long way and sends a clear signal that jurors detest retaliation and can find the truth despite efforts to cover it up,” Michael Sussman and Christopher Watkins, lawyers for Nelson and Lyons, said in a statement.

Lawyers for D’Amico and the state police could not immediately be reached for comment. State police declined to comment. D’Amico, a West Nyack resident, could not immediately be reached.

Nelson, a Pelham Manor resident, now works in security in the private sector. Lyons, who lives in Nanuet, works in law enforcement for Rockland County.

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The saga traces back to July 2010, when Nelson, a state police investigator at the time, was ordered to transport evidence, including cocaine and marijuana, from the Mid Hudson Regional Crime Lab in Newburgh to an evidence locker at Troop K’s Hawthorne barracks. Lyons drove Nelson, who secured the drugs in an evidence locker at the Hawthorne station and made a record of it, according to their lawsuit.

At some point in the ensuing 15 months, those drugs went missing without any record of what happened to them.

Signs pointed to a senior investigator who was responsible for the evidence locker in Hawthorne, the lawsuit said. That senior investigator had a history of alcohol problems and his wife had a substance abuse issue, specifically with oxycodone, according to the lawsuit, and 98 oxycodone pills were reported missing from the Hawthorne evidence locker in a separate incident.

There was also evidence that the senior investigator had prescriptions for drugs from doctors who had no record of signing those prescriptions, and his wife worked at the medical group where several of the unauthorized prescriptions came from, according to the lawsuit.

Despite the “reasonable basis” to identify that senior investigator, who is white, as the culprit and bring disciplinary charges against him, state police allowed him to retire in 2011, according to the lawsuit.

State police investigated the missing evidence and initially took no action against Nelson or Lyons, but in 2013 the agency brought disciplinary charges against them, claiming they provided false statements during the investigation. According to the lawsuit, the state police knew that by the time they were interviewed as part of the investigation, Nelson and Lyons could not remember some things from that July 2010 day when they transferred the evidence to Hawthorne.

Nelson then resigned from the state police in 2013 after “he had been subjected to 30 months of disparate treatment, reduced responsibilities and false accusations and did not foresee his employment status improving,” the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, Lyons also resigned that year after D’Amico directed Lyons’ boss to offer him an ultimatum: resign or be fired.

Matt Spillane covers breaking news throughout the Hudson Valley. Click here for his latest stories. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpillane. Check out our latest subscription offers here.

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