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Mar 17, 2010 1:23 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Lawyer for Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean says his client won't follow board's orders

Attorney Michael Axelrod's letter to the Village Board (PDF)
Mar 17, 2010 1:23 PM

Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean, through his attorney, said he will not follow orders handed down by the Village Board two weeks ago that demand information and records pertaining to the running of his police department.

Four resolutions adopted by the board’s majority on March 4 interfere with ongoing investigations involving the Westhampton Beach Village Police Department, jeopardize the village’s possible defense regarding two lawsuits that could soon be filed by two previously suspended Village Police officers, and ignores and misinterprets village and civil service laws, according to a letter sent to the Village Board by Chief Dean’s attorney, Michael Axelrod of Certilman, Balin, Adler & Hyman, LLP, of East Meadow.

“As indicated, your actions are inappropriate and a violation of law and Chief Dean’s oath of office,” Mr. Axelrod wrote in his letter, which was dated March 12. “He will decline to follow your illegal resolutions.”

At several points in his six-page letter, Mr. Axelrod asks the board’s majority—Village Trustees Hank Tucker, Joan Levan and Jim Kametler—“what were you thinking?” when they introduced and approved the documents.

Mr. Axelrod could not be immediately reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Mr. Tucker said the board has not yet discussed the letter, explaining that the four resolutions were passed because he, Ms. Levan and Mr. Kametler need the information they requested before deciding whether or not to hold disciplinary hearings for Officers Michael Bruetsch and Joseph Pesapane.

In December, the same three village trustees dismissed charges filed against the two officers and ordered them back to work. Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller had suspended the two officers after a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau investigation found that they had lied to superior officers and outside investigators about the circumstances involving a fellow officer’s handgun that went missing last March. Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane have been on restrictive duty since their reinstatement, as per the order of Mayor Teller.

“It’s time for him to cough up the records,” Mr. Tucker said of Chief Dean. “We’re looking for fair justice for all.”

Mr. Tucker added that Mr. Axelrod’s opinion obviously caters to the needs of his client, Chief Dean. “Each [resolution] has a direct bearing on the charges he wants to be heard,” Mr. Tucker said, referring to Chief Dean’s desire to move forward with the disciplinary hearings.

Mr. Kametler, who did not return a call this week seeking comment, has previously stated that the disciplinary hearings would be too costly to hold. Mr. Tucker and Ms. Levan both said they took issue with the validity of the Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau report regarding the conduct of the two officers, while Mr. Tucker has stated that he wants to protect the village from a lawsuit.

Mr. Tucker has been vocal about the preventing the village from being embroiled in another Thomas Verbeeck affair. In the 1990s, when Mayor Teller was the chief of the Westhampton Beach Police Department, Officer Verbeeck was subject to two disciplinary hearings and was later dismissed from the force. He filed suit and after a second disciplinary hearing received a $600,000 settlement from the village. The hearings also cost the village almost $475,000.

Earlier this month, Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane served the village, including the entire board of trustees and Chief Dean, with two notices of claim, typical precursors to a lawsuit. The notices allege that since their reinstatement last year they have been forced to work in a hostile environment, been treated unfairly by their superiors and have been the victims of a libel and slander campaign. Their attorney, William Keahon, said separate lawsuits seeking an undisclosed amount of monetary damages will be forthcoming.

On Tuesday, Mr. Tucker would not rule out holding the disciplinary hearings in the future, but say the board needs the information it requested from Chief Dean in order to move forward.

On Tuesday evening, Chief Dean, who had not yet been served with the four resolutions, said he reached out to his attorney on March 5, a day after they were approved by the board. He declined to comment on the letter. “It says it all right there,” he said, referring to his attorney’s letter.

Chief Dean said he asked Mr. Axelrod to read and offer his opinion of the four resolutions after they were passed by identical 3-2 margins at a board meeting on March 4. Mayor Teller and Village Trustee Toni-Jo Birk opposed all four.

The letter from Mr. Axelrod addresses the fact that Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane might file lawsuits, stating that some of the information requested, including records of discipline within the police department, gun ownership information and records about missing videos, jeopardize the village’s possible defense if litigation is every filed.

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Best defense is a good offense.

Maybe it's me but when a public official starts hiding records that would seem to indicate it is time to go.
By Hambone (514), New York on Mar 17, 10 11:00 AM
If in fact,they haven't discussed the letter,they better do so soon.How many more lawyers have to tell them that their actions were illegal????This is far from over,what will the cost be to the village????
By curious (77), westhampton beach on Mar 17, 10 11:36 AM
The cost will be to much.Just like the police force and the board!!!
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 17, 10 2:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
How can the WHB Three claim with a straight face that they need the information "before" they decide whether to hold diciplinary hearings for the officers? Just last week, after "silencing" the Village Attorney and ignoring his advice to the contrary, they quashed resolutions requiring that the diciplinary hearings proceed. So if their minds are already made up, what's the real purpose of their request to the Chief?
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Mar 17, 10 5:56 PM
Sorry, meant disciplinary.
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Mar 17, 10 5:58 PM
I'm confused -- wasn't "the information" included in the Internal Affairs report which the Trustees have had in the possession since last October?

Or is there new "information?"
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 17, 10 7:05 PM
It was made clear the the two officer's LIED to the Suffolk investagators.
Now the board wants to see records on how Dean ran the police department.
Lets see if they look at "JIM THE GUN"S" record when he was on this so-called police force. His miss-use of power over and over and why he was asked to retire instead of being fired.
So now you can all tell me why we need this poice department and this board.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 17, 10 9:49 PM
Sounds like another Village PD going down the tubes, just like Greenport in the early 90's....
By BCHBUM11968 (81), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 18, 10 10:56 AM
I was just a kid when that happened in Greenport and I thought it was all about saving money and not bad cops. Every taxpayer was cut a refund check. This board wasted no time writting these resolutions but they need more information before they can decide on disciplinary hearings? The SC police investigation did not reveal enough to warrant a decision on this matter? Who wrote those resolutions anyway? I'm not a great writter but those were poorly done, and illegal apparently.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Mar 18, 10 5:38 PM
If the taxpayers of WHB want to get rid of the police, now is as good a time as any. If they want to correct this mess they can do that too...and should asap before any more of funds are wasted. Unfortunately, it looks like most of them do not know or care about what's going on.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 18, 10 6:06 PM
2 members liked this comment
Editor,

Please add link to new article on Mr. Bishop resigning.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 24, 10 6:48 PM
Someone needs to get this story in a New York City paper to wake people up and maybe the NYS Attorney General.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 24, 10 10:35 PM
1 member liked this comment