By Stephen J. Kotz
A former Sag Harbor firefighter has filed a federal lawsuit against the village, claiming he was wrongly kicked out of the volunteer department after he was sexually assaulted by a fellow member.
Noel Brandt is seeking $950,000 in damages from the village and an additional $300,000 in damages from the department’s former chief, Tom Gardella, according to his attorney, Lawrence Kelly of Bayport.
In the suit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, Mr. Kelly claims his client was wrongly kicked out of the department following an incident in June 2015, in which a fellow department member, Ray Milazzo, allegedly grabbed him by the crotch and did not let go while being egged on by Mr. Brandt’s uncle, former Mayor Brian Gilbride, and another department member, Eugene Garypie.
Mr. Kelly said Mr. Brandt and Mr. Milazzo had had a disagreement in the past, but at the suggestion of another department member, Mr. Brandt sought to “smooth things over and the other guy just grabbed him by the crotch,” Mr. Kelly said.
The suit states that Mr. Milazzo is 20 to 30 years older than Mr. Brandt so Mr. Brandt “did not react by returning any physical assault on the old man.”
Following the incident, which took place at a department event according to the attorney, Mr. Brandt sent a text to Mr. Garypie, with a message he requested be relayed to Mr. Gilbride, “indicating that their encouragement of such a sexual assault by proxy would not happen again without a physical defense being offered” by Mr. Brandt.
According to the suit, Mr. Brandt informed Mr. Garypie he did not “appreciate their snickering over the assault” and asked him to “Let your friend know I am having a 2 for 1 sale on whoop ass.”
Instead of investigating Mr. Brandt’s claims, the suit alleges that Chief Gardella and two assistant chiefs met with Mr. Brandt to discuss the incident and then leveled department charges against him, resulting in his suspension. The suit further charges the case was then discussed by the department’s board of wardens, which heard testimony from Mr. Milazzo and others but refused to allow Mr. Brandt to tell his side of the story.
On Wednesday, Mr. Gardella denied the charges. “I never witnessed any such abuse on Mr. Brandt,” he said. “He never brought that up to me.” He said Mr. Brandt’s suspension was a completely different matter and one that he could not comment on.
Mr. Kelly said Mr. Brandt was eventually terminated from the department after he refused Chief Gardella’s order that he attend an anger management class and pay for it out of his own pocket.
Mr. Kelly said the suit was asking $1.25 million in damages because “once you start a federal case, you have to start at top because you can’t raise your damages afterward.” He said Mr. Brandt, a 19-year member of the department, had been deprived of the enjoyment he received as a member as well as his future pension benefits.
Reached on Tuesday, Mayor Sandra Schroeder said she had yet to see a copy of the suit and could not comment on it. Efforts to reach others involved in the suit were unsuccessful.