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Jun 12, 2017 5:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Suspended Westhampton Beach Village Police Officer Drops Federal Suit Following Arrest

Joseph Pesapane. FILE PHOTO
Jun 14, 2017 9:21 AM

A suspended Westhampton Beach Village Police officer has dropped a $75 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the municipality, less than two weeks after he was arrested in Brooklyn on criminal menacing and trespassing charges, according to court documents.

In a court filing dated June 8, Joseph Pesapane, who has been suspended without pay from the village police force since February 2014—days after he was arrested by Suffolk County Police for allegedly stalking an ex-girlfriend though those charges were later dropped—withdrew his federal lawsuit. The litigation charged, among other things, that he was unfairly punished for witnessing alleged corruption by other police department members and Westhampton Beach Village officials. The suit named a half-dozen defendants, including current Mayor Maria Moore, Village Police Chief Trevor Gonce, and former Mayor Conrad Teller.

When reached on Monday afternoon, Mr. Pesapane’s attorney, Eric Sanders of Manhattan, said that although his client had dropped the lawsuit, the move was temporary and stressed that the litigation could be refiled if the village continued Mr. Pesapane’s suspension.

When contacted on Tuesday regarding his client’s most recent arrest, Mr. Sanders acknowledged that Mr. Pesapane’s new legal troubles played a role in their decision to withdraw the lawsuit, stating that it would be difficult to maintain his client’s credibility until he is cleared of the new charges.

“It wasn’t dropped because it has no merit—that is not the issue,” Mr. Sanders said. “There is merit, but if they would simply bring him back to work and go to trial, that would stop a bunch of these problems.”

He was referring to a requested disciplinary hearing for Mr. Pesapane that, for various reasons, has not yet been scheduled. On Monday, before Mr. Pesapane’s latest arrest was known, village officials said that while he notified the village that the stalking charge has been dropped, he must also notify the village’s hearing officer, Steven Kasarda of White Plains—which Mr. Pesapane has not yet done, according to Ms. Moore.

Mr. Pesapane’s latest legal troubles stem from two incidents occurring on Stanton Road in Brooklyn, his new hometown, late last month. In the first instance, Mr. Pesapane was reportedly seen trespassing on his neighbor’s property at 6:30 p.m. on May 20. Approximately a week later, at 11:14 a.m. on May 28, the same neighbor reported seeing Mr. Pesapane outside of his home and peering inside.

At one point, the complainant says Mr. Pesapane picked up a brick and waved it at him, which the man took as a physical threat, according to the criminal complaint filed with the New York Police Department and obtained by The Press.

Mr. Pesapane was arrested on May 28 and charged with two counts of third-degree menacing and one count of third-degree trespassing, both misdemeanors, as well as one count of fourth-degree trespassing and two counts of second-degree harassment, both violations, according to authorities. He was arraigned at the Kings County Criminal Court in Brooklyn later that day and released on his own recognizance, court documents show.

“All of these cases depend on the credibility of the client,” Mr. Sanders said, explaining why they pulled the federal complaint. “This doesn’t mean that his federal case is forever gone, but it is not helpful.”

Village officials, meanwhile, are viewing the decision to withdraw—even if it is only temporary—as a victory.

“It was very good news that we got today,” Ms. Moore said on Monday.

“This lawsuit wasn’t going any place,” added Westhampton Beach Village Attorney Richard Zuckerman, noting that there had been no movement with the suit for months prior to its withdrawal. “It is good that he figured it out before we had to waste any more time and effort in defending it.”

He added that the village is ready to resume the fight if Mr. Pesapane eventually decides to resubmit the federal complaint.

Mr. Pesapane’s problems with the village date back to 2009 when he was first suspended after investigators from the Suffolk County Internal Affairs Bureau determined that he and a fellow officer, Michael Bruetsch, lied during an investigation into a missing handgun. Mr. Bruetsch agreed to retire in 2012, with full benefits. In total, Mr. Pesapane was suspended three times over the incident.

Mr. Pesapane was suspended again in 2014, roughly five months after he was arrested by Suffolk County Police and charged with fourth-degree stalking, a misdemeanor—a charge that was dropped last summer by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office when prosecutors could not substantiate the allegation, his attorney said.

Village officials never gave a public reason for the most recent suspension, citing personnel matters, but also stated last year that Mr. Pesapane could not return to work until he agrees to participate in a disciplinary hearing.

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Talk about milking the system... geez. You didn't have something better to do with your time officer?
By lirider (288), Hampton Bays on Jun 14, 17 1:18 AM
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