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Aug 29, 2012 11:59 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

New Details Emerge On Westhampton Beach Police Officer Settlement

Aug 29, 2012 12:47 PM

New details have emerged regarding the settlement between the Village of Westhampton Beach and a former Village Police officer who was at the epicenter of a missing handgun controversy in 2009, and allowed to retire earlier this year with full benefits.

According to a copy of the settlement obtained by The Press through a Freedom of Information Act request, the officer in question, Michael Bruetsch—whose name was redacted from the document—reached an agreement with the village on July 11, 2011. The settlement allowed Officer Bruetsch, who had been employed by the village for only nine years and not 15 years as previously stated by Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller, to retire even though he did not have 20 years of police service due to an injury he suffered prior to charges being filed against him for his involvement in the incident in which a fellow officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters. The incident sparked an internal investigation of the police department.

The settlement, which allowed Officer Bruetsch to secure a disability retirement on May 14, 2012, was suggested by Stephen Bluth, an independent hearing officer hired to assess the situation. Mr. Bluth made the suggestion after warning Village Board members that continued legal action, needed to further punish and perhaps fire the former officer, would have taken at least 18 months to wind its way through the courts.

Last week, Mr. Teller said the board signed off on the settlement, instead of pursuing additional disciplinary charges, to avoid further legal costs and finally bring the matter to a close.

“I can’t say everyone was happy in the end, but I agree with it,” Mr. Teller said. “The hearing officer, during the hearing, made a suggestion to the village that we should endeavor to settle the matter. Otherwise, the hearing would probably go on for another year and a half.

“He said a negotiated settlement would be in the best interest of both parties,” the mayor continued.

The settlement stemmed from charges that Mr. Bruetsch lied during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau 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 at the time, Mr. Bruetsch had been accused of three counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer and lying five times to investigators.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Bruetsch filed for a disability retirement and had until May 31, 2012, to do so. According to Mr. Teller, Mr. Bruetsch was allowed to retire with full benefits even though he did not have a full 20 years of service with the village since he was going out on disability. The mayor noted that the ex-officer had accrued time while working as an officer for the New York Police Department, though it was not clear how long he was employed there before being hired by the village on August 11, 2003.

Mr. Teller explained last week that Mr. Bruetsch was able to go out on a disability retirement due to an injury he suffered several years ago, before the gun incident. The mayor said the former officer suffered some sort of back injury while removing a large branch from a street in the village. He could not offer additional details on the injury.

Mr. Teller said the village had originally agreed to a standard retirement, but that Mr. Bruetsch had petitioned to the state, which determined that he met all the requirements for a disability retirement. His retirement took effect on May 30 of this year.

The main difference between a standard and disability retirement is that, with the latter, the retiree does not have to pay any taxes on his pension, according to Mr. Teller. Mr. Bruetsch is set to receive approximately $50,000 a year in compensation from the village—all tax-free. His pension was calculated by taking his average salary over the last three years—$97,808.92 in 2011 and 2012, and $103,795.61 in 2012—and dividing it in half, according to Mr. Teller.

Eric Sumberg, the press secretary for New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, did not immediately return calls seeking additional information about the state’s retirement laws.

“We are just ahead of the game,” Mr. Teller said. “The retirement would have come anyway.”

Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker, who was part of a former majority that successfully blocked Mr. Bruetsch’s punishment for several months, declined to discuss the settlement this week, noting that he was not involved in final negotiations. He did note, however, that the “water was murky” on the issue, and it was a complicated matter from start to finish.

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Good job Mr Teller. Its always better to get these things cleaned up and move on.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 29, 12 2:34 PM
Great job Mayor, you spent over $300,00 on legal costs and two officers were fully paid without working for several years. To this day, no one realy knows what happened. Nothing got cleared up, but the Village funds certainly got cleaned out over this debacle. A true leader woud have got the matter settled in two weeks. Shameful!
By beachgirl11978 (18), Westhampton Beach on Aug 30, 12 6:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By beachgirl11978 (18), Westhampton Beach on Aug 30, 12 6:47 AM
Beachgirl must not like the Mayor-sounds like Joan
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 30, 12 10:59 AM
I wonder if EastEnd68 is a WHB taxpayer or benefit of the wasteful spending in the Village. The Mayor and Chief needs to go before they bankrupt us all with their benefits and spending not to mentioned their lack of management abilities.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Aug 30, 12 11:03 AM
1 member liked this comment
Now I live outside the Village in Westhampton and Fla. I might mention that enough people liked the Mayor to get him elected.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 30, 12 11:25 AM
Yes he was elected but when he sat in my living room to pitch his campaign he made a lot of promises that were broken and cost the Village a lot of money. One was his dissatisfaction with the Chief who he cut a pretty new package for. My taxes went up about 12% as a result of that package. He also promised to get the Police Department under control which is a joke and remains one today. Why does a 2.5sq mile town need 15+ police cars? Huge benefit packages for the Trustees and mis-management of ...more
By realistic (472), westhampton on Aug 30, 12 4:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
Conrad is the x chief of Southampton what do you expect him to do in a situation involving a cop? I can't wait till these municipalities file bankruptcy and stop paying these lazy pension collectors. FDR a Democrat said it was a bad idea to let public employees unionize because of corruption. Boy was he right
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 30, 12 5:30 PM
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don't ever recall Conrad as "x chief of Southampton" but he was chief of WHB police years ago
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Aug 30, 12 5:41 PM
Chief Teller has served in the New York State Police, as head of the Southampton Town Police and allso as chief of the WHB police .. a long and mainly distinguished career of public service .
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Sep 6, 12 4:39 PM
Nice work by the Press to get the documents through FOIA.

Have a good long weekend.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 30, 12 5:46 PM