Long Beach Cops Sue City Over Political Flap

Long Beach Police patrol the oceanfront on a recent cloudy day (Joe Abate)
Long Beach Police patrol the oceanfront on a recent cloudy day (Joseph Abate)

Five police officers and one retiree last month filed a $39 million federal lawsuit against the City of Long Beach, claiming they were retaliated against for not supporting the new Democratic leadership.

The case alleges the city council, City Manager Jack Schnirman and Police Commissioner Michael Tangney disregarded the First and Fourth amendment rights of officers James Canner, Karle Hayes, John Radin, Jose Miguez and Benjamin Tanye as well as retiree James McCormack for their support of the Republican Party in the 2011 Long Beach city elections.

“Intentionally, it was their right to take part in the political process,” said Manhattan-based Attorney Eric Rothstein, who is representing the officers. “The jest of the case was the plaintiffs were punished for exercising their First Amendment right to support one party, and they were retaliated by members of the other party.”

The officers are also suing the Long Beach Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and former PBA President Stefan Chernaski for allegedly failing to address and defend their rights for the same reason. Each officer is suing for $6.5 million.

“The allegations are false,” said Gordon Tepper, a city spokesman. “The City of Long Beach is aggressively defending and believes there is absolutely no merit to these allegations. The city is not giving the officers $ 6.5 million.”

Tangney, who was appointed Commissioner in January, and the city’s Democratic administration have been accused of downgrading, reassigning and filing “baseless, malicious and/or inappropriate and/or untimely departmental charges” against the officers while promoting or assigning better shifts to those who are Democrats, according to the lawsuit.

The officers are asking to be restored to their former positions with retroactive pay.

They say that Chernaski, the PBA head, failed to document the allegations and take action to defend their rights because he “was a political confident and ally of Tangney and the Long Beach Democratic Committee,” and that he refused to address their requests, calling them “meritless.”

The case alleges that because of Chernaski’s is a Democrat, Tangney gave him a $20,000 raise and promoted him from Sergeant to Detective Lieutenant and Commanding Officer of the Detective Division, thereby, replacing Canner. Canner, who suffered an injury in 2009 during a drug operation, says his replacement violated the American With Disabilities Act.

This is not the first politically charged lawsuit for the police in the City by the Sea. Last September, Chernaski also filed a lawsuit of $27.5 million against the city, saying he was denied promotion for not supporting the Republican Party during elections, and that former City Manager Charles Theofan, former Police Commissioner Thomas Sofield Sr. and former City Council President Thomas Sofield Jr. threatened and harassed him. The Council settled that suit for $25,000.

McCormack, who retired this February after 33 and ½ years, said that the city and Tangney made his working environment too stressful and forced him to retire for the sake of his health. He said the city owed him $575,607 for unused vacation, sick and compensatory time, but failed to pay it on the day it was due.