Sex, Cops and Videotape: Girl Claims Abuse

In the leafy New York City bedroom community of Harrison, N.Y., typical interactions between residents and police consist of Mercedes sedans getting pulled over for speeding.

But in recent years, the placid atmosphere of the town, home to designer Kenneth Cole, Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain and Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, has been shattered by allegations of brutality, sexual abuse and fraud perpetrated by police officers.

The most recent alleged incident, which prompted a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing a veteran officer of sexually abusing a girl and forcing her to watch a sex video featuring her, has led the mayor to call an emergency session and demand the appointment of an independent monitor.

On May 17, Joseph Porto, 21, and his girlfriend, 18, claim that an officer raiding his family's home in search of marijuana fondled the then-16-year-old girl's buttocks and "placed both of his hands on [her] breasts and massaged them," according to court documents.

Detective Richard Light did this "solely for the purpose of his own sexual gratification and with the intention of both degrading and sexually abusing" the girl, says the complaint.

After Capt. Anthony Marraccini searched a bedroom and found a camcorder containing a video of the girl at age 15 having sex, three officers forced her to watch the tape with them as they mocked her, according to the complaint.

Light threatened her, saying, "I should beat your a-- for this. I hope your parents beat your a--. If someone from your house calls the cops, I will tell the cops to delay any response for 45 minutes," court documents state.

The officers took the camcorder back to the station house with them and played the video close enough to Porto's jail cell so that the young man could hear the audio while the officers laughed and made references to his girlfriend, according to the complaint.

In the lawsuit, the unidentified girl named "Jane Doe" claims that she suffered extreme emotional upset, anxiety, public humiliation, sexual abuse, among other things. She, as well as Porto, seek unspecified damages.

As a result of the lawsuit, Harrison Mayor Joan Walsh plans to hold an emergency executive session to demand that the town board authorize a full investigation by an independent investigator and to appoint an independent monitor if the allegations prove credible.

"The manner in which our residents and neighboring communities view our police department is deeply troubling to me and cannot be tolerated any longer," Walsh said in a statement e-mailed to

She added, "The civil rights and safety of Harrison residents is my foremost concern, and anything or anybody who threatens those rights or that safety must be investigated and appropriately disciplined."

Steven J. Harfenist, a lawyer for the officers, said the lawsuit is completely baseless, without merit and involves fabricated allegations.

"This was a search warrant validly executed that resulted in the arrest of Mr. Porto who is doing jail time, having pled guilty to a felony on a drug-related charge," said Harfenist. He added that officers found a handgun, silencer, large amounts of cash and marijuana with a street value of $5,000 at the house.

"The tape was never played in front of her and she was not sexually molested. She was frisked in accordance with police procedures and the search went by the book," he said.

The alleged incident is just the latest scandal for the town's police department and longtime captain in recent years. Residents have mixed feelings about the force.

A neighbor of the Portos, who declined to be named, defended the police. "They are great. Allegations are just that -- allegations."

Other residents, who also declined to be named, were more critical of the police force.

"It is a scary situation," said one longtime resident. "Some of these officers think they can get away with anything -- and people in town are afraid to confront them. What are you gonna do? They're the police."

A lawyer who has not been involved in litigation with the police was also reluctant to go on the record with his comments. "There is a perception in the town and in our community that there are some bad things going on at the police department. As a citizen, I have concerns about it."

Bruno Strati, a former town board member, defended the police.

"Nothing really has been proven yet," he said. "I don't believe there's a problem with the police. They have a tough job and whenever someone gets arrested, sometimes they make allegations that don't turn out to be true."

A month and a half ago, a town employee accused Marraccini and his brother-in-law of brutally beating him outside Al Dente Bar & Restaurant. John Carollo claims that Marraccini dragged him outside while the brother-in-law kicked him in the head and face.

Carollo, who was arrested for misdemeanor drug possession, has a court appearance Friday in his drug case.

Carollo was not available for comment but his mother, Robyn Nathanson Carollo, said that her son was hospitalized for a few days after suffering a concussion and facial bruises in the beating.

Harfenist, Marraccini's lawyer, dismissed the allegations of the beating, saying, "There is no merit to the Carollo matter."

Last year, the town's police department was caught up in another scandal involving cameras and illicit images.

Marraccini, along with police Chief David Hall, was the defendant in a previous federal lawsuit filed last year, in which fellow officers accused the pair of secretly spying on officers as they changed and showered.

According to the suit, Marraccini admitted setting up the camera and to keeping locker room images of the officers on his computer.

Marraccini, who was not available for comment, told the New York Times that while he did install the camera, the other allegations against him were false. Hall, who did not return calls for comment, also denied the allegations in previous reports. That lawsuit is still pending.

The suit exposed tensions within the department because one of the plaintiffs was an 18-year veteran of the force who had accused his colleagues of racial profiling in 2004 and claimed he was later punished by being denied a promotion.

Former police union president Ralph Tancredi, another plaintiff, has sued the police department four times in federal court.

Two months after the spying lawsuit was filed, he and nine other officers sued Hall and the town over claims that the chief mishandled a $2,500 donation.

Six months later, Tancredi, who did not respond to requests for comment, sued Hall and other officers for allegedly recording conversations at the front desk of the police department.

In his last salvo against the department, Tancredi accused the police of coercion and false imprisonment after he was charged with menacing and harassing his ex-girlfriend. According to legal papers in the case, he was accused of stealing the keys to Sofia Saenz's car, fighting with her and pulling her top down while calling her a "slut" and a "whore."

Mark Reinharz, who is defending the Harrison Police Department in the spying case and the recording case, denied allegations against the police department.

"There were no violations whatsoever by any members of the police department. It's total nonsense. These are disgruntled officers who think they know how to run the police department better than the chief. Capt. Marraccini has been a decorated officer for almost 25 years."

Many of the lawsuits, including the Porto complaint, were filed by the same lawyer, Joseph Lovett, who did not return repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment.