File photo: Denise Civiletti

A Riverhead woman has filed a $10 million civil rights action in federal court against the Town of Riverhead, the Riverhead Police Department and two police officers, claiming the officers used excessive force during an incident in June 2019, causing fractured bones and other injuries.

In a complaint filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Mayra Moralles-Osorio says her son, Guillermo Vargas, was in a dispute with a group of men from Moonlight Taxi when police arrived on the scene. The two Riverhead police officers “immediately began to use force” to arrest her son and, according to the complaint, she “attempted to advise the arresting officers that her son suffered from mental illness and that the amount of force they were using was not necessary.”

According to the complaint, the officers grabbed her arm and threw her to the ground, causing her to sustain “fractures to her sacrum and left hand and right knee and abdominal pain.” Moralles-Osorio says she was “unarmed and posed no physical or other threat” to the officers.

The incident report filed by P.O. Andrew Groneman, one of the two involved officers, states that when he responded to a call on Railroad Avenue on June 24, 2019 about a dispute over a bicycle, he witnessed Vargas break the front window of the Moonlight Taxi office. With the assistance of a second officer, P.O. James Treadwell, Vargas, who struggled with the officers, was apprehended and handcuffed, according to the report. “(M)edical attention was given to his right arm, due to the breaking of the glass,” the report states. Groneman “received minor cuts and abrasion to the knees and elbow” while placing Vargas in handcuffs, according to the officer’s report.

Mayra Moralles-Osorio is listed in the report as the complainant. The report states Moralles-Osorio “was to make restitution to the window and make payment for the bike.” There were no charges filed, according to the report. Vargas was transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center “for further medical attention,” the report states.

There is no mention in the report of any injuries to Moralles-Osorio.

Attorneys for Moralles-Osorio last year sought to bring an action in State Supreme Court but were denied permission to file a late notice of claim after missing the statutory deadline for filing the notice.

In a June 1 decision on Moralles-Osorio’s application, State Supreme Court Justice Carmen Victoria St. George notes that, according to the affidavit of Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, Moralles-Osorio did not file a complaint with the department and, as a result, there was no investigation into the incident.

According to court documents filed by the plaintiff in state court, Moralles-Osorio, then 33, sought medical treatment at Peconic Bay Medical Center within an hour of the incident on Railroad Avenue. She was treated for low back strain and a contusion of her left hand and released. She was advised to follow up with an orthopedic doctor, according to the discharge document.

The complaint alleges that the incident was “not an isolated incident. “Defendants have been alerted to the use of excessive and unnecessary force by its police officers and/or systematic racism by its police officers, employees or other agencies, but has nevertheless exhibited deliberate indifference to such wrongful actions,” the complaint states. Despite this knowledge, the town and the police department have failed to take corrective action, according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges the town and the police department failed to adequately train and supervise its employees, including its police officers and the two officers in question.

Moralles-Osorio is seeking damages of $1 million in each of nine separate causes of action plus $1 million in punitive damages.

Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz represented the town in the state court action. The law firm of McGiff Halvorsen and Dooley of Patchogue is representing the defendants in the federal action.

The plaintiff’s attorneys are Ferro, Kuba, Mangano Sklyar PC of Hauppauge.

Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.