A New York jury has awarded two former state troopers $3.5 million in damages in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency and its former top official.
Noel Nelson and Seamus Lyons allege they were falsely accused of stealing marijuana and cocaine from an evidence locker in 2010.
Nelson said the false allegation was retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination. Lyons alleges he was targeted because he defended Nelson.
“They went after an African-American senior investigator, Mr. Nelson, and Mr. Lyons – a white man who supported him,” said the men’s attorney Michael Sussman. “They essentially threw them both out of the state police after a combined 41 years of service.”
Both men were forced to retire and resign after they were faced with disciplinary action. However, Sussman said officials ignored two white evidence custodians who were previously found guilty of stealing drugs. Nelson had spent 29 years as a state trooper, and Lyons served for 12 years.
Nelson and Lyons transported the narcotics to an evidence locker in upstate New York in July 2010. They said they left the drugs in the facility and recorded it.
The lawsuit alleges that officials also ignored another senior investigator with a history of alcohol abuse and a wife with oxycodone addiction who could have also been the perpetrator. Court documents show that 98 oxycodone pills were reported missing from the evidence locker on another occasion. That senior investigator, who is white, retired in 2011.
Nelson and Lyons were accused of making false statements during the investigation. As a result, Nelson faced “30 months of disparate treatment, reduced responsibilities and false accusations and did not foresee his employment status improving,” the complaint says. He resigned in 2013. Lyons’ superiors gave him the option to resign or be fired that same year.
Lyons now works a county-level law enforcement job, and Nelson works a private-sector security job, reports show.
The pair filed the federal lawsuit in 2015. A jury in White Plains on Thursday, June 2, awarded $2 million to Lyons and $1.25 million to Nelson. They each received $5,000 in punitive damages against the ex-Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico. He resigned in 2016.
“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,” attorneys for Nelson and Lyons said in a statement.