Suit by Officers Accuses Police Of Harassment

Two police officers filed a suit against the Police Department yesterday charging that they had been subjected to years of anti-gay harassment, including cruel taunts and humiliating assaults, at the 23d Precinct station house on the Upper East Side.

One of the officers, Joseph Baratto, a 13-year veteran of the force who is gay, charged that his colleagues handcuffed and suspended him from a coat rack in the lunchroom, repeatedly locked him inside his locker and tried to force him to simulate oral sex on another officer.

The other officer, Steven Camacho, who joined the force in 1993, said he was harassed, even though he is heterosexual, because he agreed to work with Officer Baratto. The two were partners in a squad car in 1995 and 1996. Officer Camacho, the suit states, was also harassed in the Police Department’s official in-house magazine, Spring 3100, which is sent out to more than 40,000 employees.

Marilyn Mode, a police spokeswoman, said the department had not received the suit yet and would not comment on ongoing litigation in any case, but she said Police Commissioner Howard Safir ”has said on many occasions he will not tolerate discriminatory behavior predicated on race, religion, gender or sexual preference.”

The department has 30 days to file a response to the suit.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeks an unspecified amount of money and names two of the officers’ supervisors and the officer who wrote the article in the magazine, in addition to the Police Department and the City. Although the officers never complained to their superiors, the suit charges that the harassment, which included crude cartoons and doctored photographs taped to walls and pinned to bulletin boards, was so blatant that the supervisors had to have known about it.

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In June, the officers filed an internal complaint with the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer. Two months later, the suit states, Officer Camacho was ordered to turn in his gun and badge without explanation. They were returned to him, but he was then transferred to the 10th Precinct in Chelsea — in retaliation for filing the complaint, the suit claims.

The officers’ lawyer, Colleen M. Meenan, who is also the staff attorney for the Gay Officers Action League, a fraternal group of gay and lesbian officers, said that gay officers frequently complain to the organization about homophobia in their precincts but rarely file complaints because they fear reprisals.

”You hear some egregious isolated stuff but not stuff that’s this pervasive over an extended period of time,” she said. ”This is criminal, is what it is.”

The suit asserts that Officer Baratto suffered a psychological breakdown because of the harassment and is now on desk duty.

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