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Mar 10, 2010 2:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village police officers file notices of claim

Mar 10, 2010 2:16 PM

Two previously suspended Westhampton Beach Village Police officers this week filed separate notices of claim, the typical precursor to a lawsuit, alleging that village officials have violated their civil rights.

Officers Michael Bruetsch and Joseph Pesapane, who have been limited to desk duty since their reinstatement late last year, filed nearly identical claims last Thursday, March 4, that list the village, its police department, Police Chief Ray Dean and the entire board of trustees as defendants. The notices accuse the defendants of forcing the officers to work in a hostile environment, engaging in retaliation against them, treating them unfairly, and committing libel and slander against them, among other complaints.

Neither claim includes a dollar figure for damages sought by the officers, though both notices state that they have suffered injuries including “pain, suffering and emotional distress,” along with “loss of reputation, humiliation, [and] character assassination.” Both claims state that the plaintiffs will be seeking “compensatory losses for legal fees.”

Attorney Bill Keahon, who is representing Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane, said Friday that his clients will be filing lawsuits at some point. He declined to say how much money they will be seeking in damages, explaining that he and his partner Joseph Ferrante will be handling the claims and pending litigation.

Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane were suspended with pay by Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller in October after a Suffolk County Internal Affairs Bureau investigation concluded that they lied to superior officers about the circumstances involving another officer’s missing handgun last year. The officers were ordered back to work in December by the Village Board, but both have been kept on desk duty by the order of Mayor Teller.

The filing of the claims came to light during last Thursday night’s contentious Village Board meeting, which lasted more than two hours and during which trustees also approved four resolutions that Westhampton Beach Village Attorney Bo Bishop said could open the municipality to additional litigation.

Village Board member Hank Tucker, who voted in favor of the four resolutions along with fellow trustees Joan Levan and Jim Kametler, said the intent of the documents is to examine complaints of “malfeasance” in the village’s police department. Mr. Tucker said board members also need more information to make informed decisions regarding the disciplinary hearings that Mayor Teller has been demanding the board hold for the two suspended police officers.

The four resolutions adopted last week, all by identical 3-2 votes, order Chief Dean to provide the board with reports on a number of practices of the police department, including one pertaining to discipline records. The second refers to missing video and audio evidence from March 8, 2009—the day that a third officer reported that his personal handgun was removed from his locker at police headquarters, an incident that eventually sparked the Internal Affairs Bureau investigation involving Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane.

The resolution asking for a detailed explanation of the missing video and audio evidence also requests information involving someone described as “Citizen K,” who was arrested on September 7, 2009, and charged with DWI by Westhampton Beach Village Police. Though she is not named in the resolution, “Citizen K” clearly refers to former Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, who is also represented by Mr. Keahon. In an earlier interview, Mr. Keahon revealed that four minutes of video taken during Ms. Kabot’s arrest on September 7 were missing.

The third resolution requests a report of records concerning the loss of a firearm around March 8, 2009—the incident that sparked the outside investigation. The fourth demands a report on the investigations of penal law offenses spanning from January 1, 2009, and March 4, 2010, the latter being the date of last week’s board meeting.

Village Board member Toni-Jo Birk, who voted with the mayor each time, tried to table the four resolutions but failed. Mayor Teller refuted each resolution after it was read, calling them “asinine” and “ridiculous.” He scheduled an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon, with the intent of rescinding the four resolutions, but canceled it at the last minute after learning that one board member was not going to attend. The mayor declined to identify the board member.

Chief Dean declined to comment on the two notices of claim or the complaint leveled against his department by Mr. Tucker. When asked Tuesday if he would follow the orders of the four resolutions, Chief Dean referred a reporter to his attorney, Michael Axelrod of Certilman, Balin, Adler and Hyman, LLP in East Meadow. Mr. Axelrod could not be immediately reached for comment.

Explaining his reason for approving the four resolutions, Mr. Tucker cited a section of New York State Village Law stating that the board of trustees has the authority to set the ground rules for “the examination, hearing, investigation and determination of charges” against a police officer when deciding whether or not to hold a disciplinary hearing.

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I think this justified as the board is running the village not the Mayor or Police Chief
By LUVSH (28), Southampton on Mar 5, 10 2:40 PM
Outrageous that the board would insult Mr Bishop that way. He deserves to be treated like the competent professional he is. As for Mr Tucker-all I can say is that too much cheese cake must damage the brain.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Mar 5, 10 3:36 PM
2 members liked this comment
Well put LUVSH, the Mayor and Chief have behaved as dictators for some time now and misinform the public at great lengths. It really is time to put a stop to this and get rid of them both!!
By ThatsIncredible (4), Westhampton Beach on Mar 5, 10 5:30 PM
Not that it's important but the wildfires pictured on the mural behind the Village Board (not shown in the SP photo but obvious in tthe elevised record of the meeting) seem quite appropriate. Nero?
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 5, 10 6:09 PM
Why do Westhampton and Quogue have a village police department? Is it mandatory? Hampton Bays seems to get along just fine with Town Police.

Disband the police department and use Town Police. Is there a way to get this on a ballot?
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Mar 5, 10 7:01 PM
It is one of those perks of living in an incorporated Village. I am glad I don't have to pay for this waste but others don't seem to care. For 40 years the Town police has always provided professional responsive service for me.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 5, 10 8:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
What a farce this has turned out to be. Looks like from the expression on Jim "the mighty hunter and illegal Bed & Breakfast operator" that he must be looking at pictures of possums and other yard animals to conduct target practice on.
By sayitaintsojoe (100), Westhampton on Mar 6, 10 11:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
Does anyone find it strange that these 2 LIEING cops and LAST CALL LINDA are both being represented by the same attorney????
Since the Board wants to look at police records lets ask to see JIM THE GUN'S police records while he was on the force.
The two LIEING COPS have got to be kidding about what they have suffered.Then should refund their pay to the tax payers for lieing to the Suffok investagators and than be fired with No benifits and jail time would be GREAT.
DEAN ...more
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 6, 10 1:03 PM
Obviously, more is going on here than meets the eye. The confrontation between board members over what should have been a procedural issue is incomprehensible.

I wonder if this is a bluff by the two cops or if they really intend to file suit.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 6, 10 2:54 PM
Did this board decide NOT to have a disciplinary hearing? Is that what the resolutions could be preparing for? The additional resolution against Mr. Bishop seems to make the board look... paranoid. When I first read about this incident I thought it was ridiculous. It has really turned into something of a joke.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Mar 6, 10 4:21 PM
WHBV residents need to watch the video of this meeting. It was posted on you tube. I must say that it was one of the strangest public meetings I have ever seen. There is something so dysfunctional about the behavior of these Trustees that it begs for intervention from the NYS AG's office just to bring order.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 6, 10 6:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ebby-you are right about Mr Bishop. Joan and Hank are very afraid of him because he knows what he is doing and knows the law inside out. Bo also does his homework.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Mar 6, 10 5:07 PM
How do we find out who authored the resolutions????
So we can find what game is being played here.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 6, 10 6:16 PM
Ordinarily the Trustee or the Mayor that is initiating the action asks the Village Clerk or the Village Attorney to put into words a written resolution. I suppose its possible in a small Village to have the Mayor or Village Trustee author a resolution for a vote. Generally you see Boards discuss issues then ask the Village Attorney or Clerk to craft the resolution. Is this any help?
By PBA (14), Southampton on Mar 6, 10 6:57 PM
Yes it does.
Thank You
With all that is going on in this town I think it should be published so we all know who is behind this.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 6, 10 7:45 PM
I think you are referring to the Village sjd, no?
By Bayman1 (297), Sag Harbor on Mar 6, 10 8:03 PM
Form Albany to Westhampton Beach
Bad Goverment and Bad Cops
By oldguy (60), hamptons on Mar 7, 10 3:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
Nellie, Help, I don't know what to look for to find the meetings on utube. Thanks
By maggi (7), East Hampton on Mar 8, 10 11:04 AM
The Beach Blogger has links to the ten segments -- they're at http://www.whbqt.info/template_permalink.asp?id=1069
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 8, 10 1:05 PM
The link is found on the westhampton beach blog.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 8, 10 6:11 PM
looks like the board is caught with thier pants down again,read the blog from dean.it's about time the truth comes out,they have been lying and coniving long enough,let the truth come out and get them out of office so the village can finaly get back to normal!They are a disgrace!!! watch the video,the facts are there.
By curious (77), westhampton beach on Mar 9, 10 10:52 AM
3 members liked this comment
One of the best parts of the vodio is when JIM THE GUN is reading he has to be coached.He is a JOKE
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 11, 10 11:18 AM
Wonder how well YOU would have done reading any of the resolutions -- I watched the full-length video on the Westhampton Beach website, and the resolutions go on and on and on.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 17, 10 8:10 AM
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 18, 10 5:16 PM
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 18, 10 5:17 PM
Truly pathetic situation. These guys clearly try to set up a fellow officer, and then try to become victims of their own nefarious action, and then threaten to sue!!!!
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Mar 10, 10 3:03 PM
2 members liked this comment
North of Highway:
I believe in previous posts you commented on the fact that you had previously been involved in labor-management relations. Can you describe them? Because judging from your previous post it would seem that you have reached a conclusion without all of the fact, which obviously is inconsistent for someone with formal legal training. Which as you know, any litigator, clearly never does. Unless of course you have, all of the facts. Please enlighten us if so.
By Bayman1 (297), Sag Harbor on Mar 11, 10 10:03 PM
They should ask the Suffolk County DA's office for a letter evaluating the two officers vis-a-vis any future testimony on behalf of the people. If it comes back they are fatally compromised they should be terminated. There would be nothing arbitrary or capricious about it.
By RemembertheDucks (54), Eastport on Mar 11, 10 10:49 AM
3 members liked this comment
Offering such a letter would almost be as stupid as suggesting that they should.
By Bayman1 (297), Sag Harbor on Mar 11, 10 7:11 PM
I tell ya what is stupid is the way this whole incident has been handled.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Mar 13, 10 12:57 PM
remember the fall/demise of Greenport Village, ( not the same incidents) but I can see this happening in this Village. I agree with north of hwy.....they did it, answer for it and move on .....taking up to much room on 27 east....
By BCHBUM11968 (81), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 18, 10 11:02 AM