Outside investigator will look into allegations made by former Southold assistant attorney against town supervisor

The Southold Town Board has voted to hire an outside investigator to look into an allegation made by former Assistant Town Attorney Damon Hagan that he was subjected to verbal abuse and profanity from Supervisor Scott Russell.

In a letter dated Jan. 3, 2023, Mr. Hagan submitted his resignation to the Town Board, effective Jan. 16, 2023, and explained why he was leaving his position.

“After working for the town of Southold for the past seven years, as not only your Assistant Town Attorney, but also your Workplace Violence Coordinator, I no longer feel safe working in an environment where I have been subjected to verbal abuse, sexually graphic and offensive language by Town Supervisor Scott Russell,” Mr. Hagan wrote.

He said he was “compelled by [the town’s] Workplace Violence Policy to enter a complaint regarding the Supervisor and his offensive conduct glorifying sexual assault and rape culture that was directed directly at me.”

According to Southold Town’s Workplace Violence Policy Statement, town employees “will be relied upon to report incidents of workplace violence: If you feel threatened, report it; If you see an altercation, report it; If you hear verbal abuse or bullying, report it.”

Workplace violence is defined as any “act or threat” of physical violence and can range from “verbal abuse to physical assaults,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website.

In an email to The Suffolk Times on March 17, Mr. Russell wrote, “The complaints made by Mr. Hagan are bizarre and baseless. Further, while I will not comment on the content of words exchanged during what was a heated political debate, I categorically deny his characterization of the conversation. I look forward to the independent investigator separating fact from fiction.”

In his letter to the town board, Mr. Hagan also alleged that Mr. Russell had ignored “past complaints and investigations, such as the past investigation finding Councilman Greg Doroski had repeatedly engaged in workplace violence at Town Board Work Sessions” and that the supervisor would allow a “hostile and toxic” work environment to continue and worsen.

The resignation letter and additional documents were obtained by The Suffolk Times under a Freedom of Information Law request. The incident that refers to Mr. Doroski occurred last September when, according to Mr. Doroski, he and Mr. Russell argued in a closed executive session in which strong language was used. In a text message, Mr. Russell said he did not argue with Mr. Doroski.

This argument continue in the parking lot, Mr. Doroski said in an interview, where he was overheard by a town employee who then filed a complaint about the language used.

“Yes, it happened. Was I wrong? Yes. I should not have been cursing loudly,” Mr. Doroski said. “I got too emotional. It was a big learning experience for me. You have to maintain your cool.”

Paul DeChance, the Southold Town Attorney, said the outside investigator engaged by the board would only look into Mr. Hagan’s allegations against Mr. Russell. He said an employee’s complaint about the parking lot language between Mr. Doroski and Mr. Russell “didn’t rise to the level” of a workplace violence incident.

A resolution approved by the board on Feb. 14 authorized Mr. DeChance to retain Lamb & Barnosky LLP of Melville to investigate “claims made by a former employee.” The resolution did not include any information on the dollar amount the law firm would be paid. Mr. Russell said he initiated the discussion to hire the outside investigator.

Handwritten notes of an interview with Mr. Hagan and another town official obtained under FOIL requests show a Dec. 27 phone call between Mr. Hagan and Mr. Russell that degenerated into an argument. At one point during the call, according to the notes, Mr. Hagan told Mr. Russell, “I want to be treated better and paid correctly.”

It was during that argument, according to the notes, that offensive language was allegedly used by Mr. Russell.

Reached by phone Friday, Mr. Hagan said, “I have no comment and it would be highly inappropriate for an official, especially a town supervisor, to comment on an internal employee matter.”