Former Saratoga County undersheriff Kevin Mullahey has filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo and the county over his forced retirement in February.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, Mullahey alleges violations of his civil rights and seeks $860,000 in damages from the county, Zurlo, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig III and unknown other county employees.
The lawsuit says that unattributed statements that appeared in several newspapers and on television after Mullahey’s resignation “denigrated plaintiff’s competence as a law enforcement professional.”
The stories that appeared in The Daily Gazette and elsewhere said that Mullahey had been pushed out after statements he made potentially compromised an undercover drug investigation.
“The aforesaid statements impugned plaintiff’s reputation in such a fashion as to effectively put a significant roadblock into plaintiff’s ability to engage in law enforcement,” the lawsuit states.
Mullahey is being represented by Albany attorney Kevin P. Luibrand.
Saratoga County Attorney Stephen Dorsey said the matter will be turned over to the county’s insurance carrier, and he expects the county to vigorously defend itself.
“We have no concerns about the manner in which [the matter] was handled,” Dorsey said.
Mullahey had worked for the Sheriff’s Department for 36 years. He had served as undersheriff, the No. 2 position in the department, after Zurlo became sheriff in January 2014. He earned $103,399 in 2015.
In that position, Mullahey was not covered by civil service protections and worked at the will of Zurlo.
The lawsuit says that during this past January, Zurlo implied to Mullahey that he had compromised a drug investigation, but Zurlo never provided specifics.
Mullahey said he had engaged in no improper conduct, and offered to submit to interviews with or without his attorney present, or to take a lie-detector test. The lawsuit said those offers were refused.
The lawsuit says that on Feb. 9, Mullahey was summoned to a meeting and presented with a “settlement agreement” in which he would have resigned and given up any right to challenge his departure. He refused to sign it.
The lawsuit says he was told if he did not resign by Feb. 12, he would be fired and would lose his county-paid family health insurance. Mullahey resigned on Feb. 12 without signing the agreement.
“The plaintiff’s resignation was coerced by defendants,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit acknowledges that as undersheriff serving at Zurlo’s pleasure, Mullahey was not entitled to a hearing or other due process protections.
After the departure, announced on a Friday afternoon, statements from unnamed officials that the lawsuit quotes and says “denigrated” Mullahey appeared in the Times Union, Saratogian, Post-Star and The Daily Gazette, on WNYT television, “and were otherwise widely circulated on the Internet.”
The lawsuit seeks $860,000 and a jury trial for emotional damages for public disparagement of his reputation.
The case has been initially assigned to Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart.
Richard Castle, who was formerly the chief deputy, has since been named undersheriff.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.