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Jun 13, 2012 11:30 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Village Parts Ways With Westhampton Beach Police Officer Over Missing Gun Incident

Jun 13, 2012 1:19 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Police officer at the center of a missing handgun controversy that sparked a pair of disciplinary hearings and created a rift among village trustees has been allowed to retire with full benefits rather than face further disciplinary action, village officials confirmed this week.

According to Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller, as a result of a disciplinary hearing that concluded earlier this year, the police officer in question, Michael Bruetsch, was given the option to retire with full benefits or be terminated. Mr. Bruetsch opted to retire and was given until May 31 to file his paperwork with New York State, the mayor said. Mr. Teller said Mr. Bruetsch complied and is no longer employed by the village.

“The matter has officially concluded,” Mr. Teller said this week. “As long as his retirement came through prior to May 31, he would be allowed to retire. The state okayed it, so it went through.”

Mr. Teller also noted that even though Mr. Bruetsch did not have his full 20 years of service—he worked for only 15 years in Westhampton Beach—he was still granted full benefits as a compromise for agreeing to leave the village’s employment. “You are legally allowed to retire during an investigation, so we let him,” the mayor said.

Mr. Bruetsch, who could not be reached for comment, was accused of lying during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigation that was triggered after a fellow officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters in 2009. According to a copy of the report that was obtained by The Press, Mr. Bruetsch had been accused of three counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer and lying five times to investigators who were brought in to get to the bottom of the incident.

A second Westhampton Beach Village Police officer, Joseph Pesapane, was also found to have lied to Suffolk County Police officials during the 2009 investigation, according to the same report. Officer Pesapane, who was suspended on three different occasions since 2009, was allowed to return to work last summer. Mr. Teller said this week that Officer Pesapane has since returned to full duty; the mayor declined to say how the officer was disciplined.

“When it comes to personnel issues, I can’t comment,” Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean said when reached this week. “I cannot go into detail about it, other than [to say] it has been resolved.”

Officer Pesapane did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The disciplinary hearings, which were approved nearly two years ago, were held in response to an outside police investigation that concluded that Mr. Bruetsch “came into possession” of a personal handgun belonging to fellow Village Police Officer Steven McManus that had been left in his locker at police headquarters while he was on vacation. The report states that Mr. Bruetsch, who has had past conflicts with Officer McManus, “subsequently put the gun into [Officer] McManus’ vehicle on March 8, 2009, the same day that Officer McManus returned from vacation and discovered that the weapon was missing from his police locker.” The report never states who took the weapon in the first place.

In October 2009—after the IAB report was finished—Mr. Teller suspended both officers without pay pending further disciplinary action. That December, the Village Board, which was controlled at the time by current Village Trustee Hank Tucker and former board members Joan Levan and Jim Kametler, voted to drop the charges and effectively delayed the scheduling of the disciplinary hearings until July 2010, when Mr. Teller, Deputy Mayor Toni-Jo Birk and newcomer Leola “Sue” Farrell, swept the village election that year and, as a result, were in the majority. Mr. Teller is a former chief of police for both Southampton Town and Westhampton Beach Village.

“I am very happy how the hearings went,” Ms. Birk said. “It was my belief from the very beginning that we should let due process happen.

“When did it become okay for cops to lie?” she added. “I have school-aged children, and I tell them all the time, ‘You do not lie.’”

Mr. Teller, who tried for several months in late 2009 and early 2010 to schedule the disciplinary hearings, only to be rebuffed by Mr. Tucker, Ms. Levan and Mr. Kametler, said he is pleased that the matter has been settled. He declined to offer additional details about the settlement with Mr. Bruetsch, citing a confidentiality agreement.

“Justice has been served,” Mr. Teller said.

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Gee what a surprise. More misconduct by public employees are then rewarded with retirement and full benefits. Just can't fire these people. What a joke
By maxwell (169), speonk on Jun 13, 12 1:09 PM
Well the Chief/City Council can't comment on personnel matters, but I will. Being given a choice of being fired or retiring with full benefits, even though he has not served the full period of time? This is a joke and is exactly the type of behavior that causes everyone to lose respect for the police. He should have been fired. On top of having rich retirement plans that are negotiated on the premise of officers holding themselves to a higher standard we have to finance shenanigans like this ...more
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Jun 13, 12 5:26 PM
On the upside, Bruetsch has a bright future with the Quogue PD. They hire all the rejects.
By G (342), Southampton on Jun 15, 12 6:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
When I was growing up, this type of thing was called institutional corruption.
By btdt (449), water mill on Jan 31, 14 6:43 PM