Updated: March 04, 2020 11:29 PM
Created: March 04, 2020 09:05 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A 30-year-old woman says she was disqualified as a candidate to be a Rochester Police Officer because the city's Civil Service Commission considers her too short.
The paperwork filed in this case says Alanna Perna-Polisseni was disqualified because, among a list of reasons, she smoked marijuana when she was a teenager and she got a speeding ticket as a teenager.
Perna-Polisseini appealed that decision.
Her lawsuit filed last week says the appeal hearing exposed the real reason she got kicked out.
"What you have here is a woman who has wanted to be a police officer for her entire adult life," Glenn Pezzulo, Perna-Polisseni's lawyer, said.
He did not allow me to talk to Perna-Polisseni.
The lawsuit describes a moment at her October appeal hearing at City Hall in Rochester when Perna-Polesseni was questioned by a member of the city's civil service commission.
The records show Commissioner John Feola asked her about the knife attack on Rochester Police Officer Denny Wright.
The lawsuit shows Perna-Polisseni said she would "de-escalate the situation."
The lawsuits shows Feola replied, "...you probably can't talk that person out of what he just did... So the communication skills, I was just trying to say in that place didn't really matter. You are not the largest person in the world."
"The implication there is you're not the largest person in the world, is yes, she's a 5 foot tall female," Pezzulo said. "But the city has no such restrictions."
Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "So what you're saying is that she was disqualified because she's short."
Glenn Pezzulo, attorney: "Correct."
The city's website lists eight basic requirements to apply to be a police officer. They include being at least 19 and having no felony convictions.
I found one online report that said in 1973, the minimum height for a police officer in Rochester was 5'7".
But there is nothing about height requirements now.
In fact, a federal court case in 1977 against the Buffalo Police said minimum height requirements discriminate against women.
Mike Mazzeo is the president of the Rochester Police union.
I asked him if height matters.
"It shouldn't matter because we should have adequate staffing," Mazzeo said. "Unfortunately, the levels of violence and attacks on police officers has risen so there's a concern. But no, I think a person who is qualified to do the job can do the job."
The lawsuit says Perna-Polisseini passed the physical and psychological tests.
I asked Mazzeo to read the lawsuit.
Mazzeo: "First of all, the question shouldn't have been asked."
Brean: "The question of what would you have done in that instance when Denny Wright got attacked? That shouldn't have been asked or the fact that he, the commissioner, pointed out that she's not the biggest person in the world?"
Mazzeo: "That part of it. Absolutely."
The records filed with the lawsuit include the RPD background information on Perna-Polisseini. She applied to be a cop 12 times in 11 years including three times at RPD and five times at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and never got hired.
The records show her background check raised some medical and relationship concerns and traffic tickets.
But it also brought up that she admitted to using marijuana in 2004 when she was 15 years old.
Brean: "Does that disqualify you from being a police officer?"
Mike Mazzeo: "Well I don't know if it does on its own. The process is geared and set up simply for background to be done where they look at desirable characteristics versus undesirable. And basically which way does it tilt?"
The original disqualification letter to Perna-Polessini from the city's Human Resource Department told her she is "not qualified for police officer." The background report said her "irresponsible behaviors outweigh responsible behaviors."
Brean: "Are those not legitimate? Can't those disqualify somebody?"
Glenn Pezzulo, attorney: "No and for this reason. You have to look at the entire picture that is presented. To reach that far back in an attempt to disqualify somebody is what we call pre-textual under discrimination statute. And that's exactly what they were trying to do. Build their case based upon past issues that aren't really relevant."
I asked to speak to the chair of the Commission.
The city's spokesman, Justin Roj, said no and said no department in the city comments when it's getting sued.
I learned New York State Supreme Court Judge James Piampiano signed an order Monday saying the city attorney has to come to court to explain why Perna-Polisseni should not be a candidate to be a police officer.
There are 740 officers in the RPD. 99 of them are women.
Click here for information on how to become a Rochester Police officer.
Click here to information on Females in Law Enforcement (FILE), an "initiative developed by Rochester Police Sergeant Christine A. Wilson to encourage more women to apply and become Rochester Police Officers."
Mike Mazzeo, President Rochester Police Locust Club talks about the drop in applicants to be RPD:
Mazzeo: "Only about 600 applied for candidates for police officer for the city. 400 directly. Maybe 200 from a cross-filing."
Brean: "What did it use to be?"
Mazzeo: "Oh, we used to have 5,000 to 7,000."
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