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Woman to sue for false DWI ‘Shame’

By Alfonso A. Castillo
Published: September 12, 2008

The diabetic woman who was included in Nassau County’s drunken driving “Wall of Shame” – even though she wasn’t drunk or high -blasted the initiative as “horrible” and “wrong,” as her attorneys announced Friday they were suing the county and the police department that arrested her.

“I was proven guilty before I was innocent. Seriously, I did nothing wrong,” Andrea Sangermano, 50, of Bellerose, said at a Mineola news conference.  “You don’t do that to a person until you know the facts.”  Sangermano was arrested May 23 by police in the Village of Hempstead and charged with driving while impaired by drugs. That was the first day of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi’s plan to publicize DWI arrests through an online Wall of Shame featuring mug shots of defendants. To date, that effort has included the photos and names of about 1,000 people. A judge dismissed all charges against Sangermano Thursday after prosecutors conceded that Sangermano, who is diabetic, was suffering from a complication of low blood sugar called hypoglycemia unawareness when an officer noticed her driving erratically, including on the sidewalk.

Sangermano said she felt “sick to my stomach” when she learned her name and photo were published in the Wall of Shame, and has been embarrassed even to go shopping or face her co-workers.  “They knew it was a mistake,” she said. “But just knowing that they saw me, it was humiliating.”

Sangermano’s lawyers, Elizabeth Kase and Louis Cerrato, both of Garden City, said Friday that they have filed a notice of claim against the county for defamation of character, libel and slander, and against the Village of Hempstead and its police department for false arrest, imprisonment and prosecution.

“You’re not even shaming the right people,” Kase said. “In a sense, it’s the system that is shamed because innocent people are getting caught up in it”.  At a news conference Friday, Suozzi apologized to Sangermano but said he was nonetheless undeterred.

“I feel bad for her and I apologize to her,” Suozzi said.

Sangermano’s lawyers said there is little county officials could do to restore her good name. They noted that even though prosecutors confirmed in early July that she had not been drunk or high, her name and photo remained on the county Web site until Aug. 18.

Sangermano’s name and photo were removed from when prosecutors notified Newsday that the charges were dropped Thursday. Suozzi’s office never contacted Newsday regarding Sangermano’s dismissal.  Newsday is following the cases of the 81 defendants from the Memorial Day weekend.

Suozzi spokeswoman Jennifer Kim said the county’s policy now will be to immediately alert the media whenever there is a dismissal or acquittal of a publicized DWI case.

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