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Mar 31, 2010 2:51 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Questions still remain over police officer suspensions, reinstatements in Westhampton Beach

Mar 31, 2010 2:51 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board’s decision to drop misconduct charges filed against two previously suspended Village Police officers this winter, over the objection of Mayor Conrad Teller, has raised questions over who controls the police department and whether or not board members reached beyond their authority.

New York State Village Law states that the mayor of a village is responsible for overseeing a municipality’s police department; in other words, in Westhampton Beach, Mayor Teller is the boss of Village Police Chief Ray Dean. The law, specifically Section 4-400, which pertains to the responsibilities of mayors, states that he or she can “exercise supervision over the conduct of the police and other subordinate officers of the village.”

According to Peter Bee, a lawyer from Mineola whose expertise is municipal law, that means that a mayor can suspend a police officer, though a police chief is usually involved before such a decision is handed down. The other members of a Village Board, he said, are not typically involved in that process.

“Generally speaking, the day-to-day management of the police department is run by the chief of police,” Mr. Bee said. “New York State puts the mayor in charge of the police department, but that doesn’t mean that he assigns people to patrols ... but the chief reports to the mayor.”

A different part of the same law, Section 4-412, states that a village board’s responsibilities include overseeing a municipality’s finances, including the budget of its police department. Section 8-804 of the state law addresses disciplinary hearings for police officers who are served with charges and states that a village board “is authorized to adopt and make rules and regulations for the examination, hearing, investigation and determination of charges, made or preferred against any member or members” of a police department.

The section does not state, one way or another, if a village board has the authority to dismiss charges once they are filed against a police officer—as happened in Westhampton Beach in December. At the time, Westhampton Beach Village Board members Hank Tucker, Joan Levan and Jim Kametler ordered Chief Dean to drop disciplinary charges against Officers Michael Bruetsch and Joseph Pesapane and ordered them back to work.

Chief Dean followed those orders but, a short time later, Mayor Teller put the officers on desk duty, stating that they cannot go back out on regular patrols until their names are cleared. The mayor insists that the only way that can happen is if the board agrees to reinstate the charges and hold the hearings. To date, Mr. Tucker, Ms. Levan and Mr. Kametler have refused to do so, already once rejecting Mayor Teller’s attempt to do both.

Mayor Teller suspended the two officers in October 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 in March 2009.

Ms. Levan said this week that the board’s decision to drop the disciplinary charges was based on the advice they were given by the village’s labor counsel, Richard Zuckerman, during a meeting in December. She declined to elaborate.

On Tuesday, Mr. Tucker also said that their decision was based on advice given to trustees by Mr. Zuckerman late last year. Mr. Tucker insisted that board members have the power to drop the charges because state law awards them the authority to alter the rules and procedures of the Village Police Department.

Mr. Tucker also insisted that Mayor Teller overstepped his authority by suspending the two officers without first consulting him and the other trustees. Specifically, Mr. Tucker referred to Section 8-804 of State Village Law, which states that “no member or members of such police force or department shall be fined, reprimanded, suspended, removed or dismissed until written charges have been examined, heard and investigated in such manner or procedure, practice, examination and investigation as the board may by rules and regulations from time to time prescribe.”

“I don’t read that anywhere in the mayor’s abilities,” Mr. Tucker said, referring to Mayor Teller’s ability to suspend police officers on his own.

Mr. Kametler did not return calls seeking comment. In previous interviews, he said that it would be too costly to hold the disciplinary hearings.

Allen Hartzik, the director of examinations at the Suffolk County Civil Service Department, agrees that the board’s majority was within its power to order Chief Dean to drop the charges. He explained that village boards are responsible for the hiring and firing of personnel and, therefore, can dismiss charges.

“They can do that any time they want,” he said. “They can decide not to proceed with the charges,” added Mr. Hartzik, whose department is responsible for overseeing personnel issues in Suffolk County.

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Mr. Bee is a long time attorney involved in labor law as well as municipal affairs. He has represented many Long Island governments in police union arbitrations. I have to believe he knows what he is talking about.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 2:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
This happened a year ago. It's become so twisted. They need to have a hearing and bring it to an end. If the whole board makes the decision, the voting goes the same way every time. So be it. The lawsuits are pending already.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Mar 31, 10 4:39 PM
The two officers lied to the internal affairs. They both should have been fired.
CASE CLOSED
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 4:51 PM
2 members liked this comment
How does one know that the officers "lied" and that "both should have been fired" without a full hearing, including all the Due Process of Law to which we are all entitled?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 31, 10 6:45 PM
READ the artical.They BOTH LIED to Suffolk Internal Affairs.So yes they should both be FIRED. Maybe you want liers on your force but I do not.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 8:34 PM
So sjd, if something appears in print, it is true?

Did you murder your wife intentionally?

[joke]
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 31, 10 9:08 PM
So you answer is just let them keep working???
They should not be on the force till this matter is cleared up.
Not on a desk not on patrol.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 9:48 PM
The plot thickens!

The June elections will be interesting, that is for sure.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 31, 10 6:52 PM
Glad I live safely behind the SHT boundary. This whole situation is so dysfunctional yet it seems that most WHBV residents (judging by the response here and elsewhere) either don't know or care about what is going on.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 8:35 PM
Maybe you should look at all of what has gone on here before you judge anyone.Look back over the past years about what residents have said.
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Mar 31, 10 9:50 PM
Past? Where are they now? They are not saying much except for you. Most comments about WHB on this blog are from people who don't live in WHB but care about it's future as part of this Town.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 31, 10 10:18 PM
Some of us just go to the board meetings and participate at meetings instead of posting comments that I seriously doubt the trustees even read
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 1, 10 3:52 PM
I am sure you are right and I wish you and your fellow Villagers luck in resolving this mess.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 1, 10 6:23 PM
This might be one instance where I agree with the Re-pubs that less government is more. Shut 'em down.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Apr 1, 10 9:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
The “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act”

The government reorganization law was authored by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. In May 2009, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled his proposal for the new legislation after spending several months working to build support for the plan. It was signed into law in June 2009

Among the most important changes related to village dissolution under the new law are the requirements set for a citizen ...more
By TIRED (13), whb on Apr 2, 10 12:44 PM
I think you've posted this about a half dozen times now. I get the point thanks.
Has it occurred to you that aside from your obvious anger at the village that a lot of good people are employed there? Does your irritation or outright anger extend to the DPW, Beach Department, the Village Office staff. If you have complaints about all of them please feel free to list them, preferably not just random anecdotal comments. While I understand your anger at what's going on with the police department, ...more
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 2, 10 7:52 PM
The "problem" which needs to be fixed seems to be the Westhampton Beach Police Department, and you don't need to abolish the entire village to fix that -- just go the way of Greenport and get rid of the cops! They seem to be at the root of everything.

Get rid of them all! The better ones will hook up with another department, and the bad ones already have second jobs they're working.

The only question seems to be: How much longer will the taxpayers of Westhampton Beach put up with ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Apr 3, 10 11:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
I would think Mr. Wheeler that the cost difference would be negligible since we would simply be paying more for SH Town protection, and wouldn't have the police cars right in the area to help out. As someone who has had to wait for SHPD cars for over 30 minutes, I appreciate local cops.
As I know you are a fan of Mr. Speir's blog, I encourage you to read on as he states (more than once) that under the Chief's guidance, the department was shaping up to be the best it has been in Mr. Speir's ...more
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 3, 10 12:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Well put Whb82. I am just outside observer to your villages problem and feel bad for you at times. It's become a source of entertainment. As far as I know these 2 cops, the chief, the Mayor, the board members, village attorney and whoever wrote those resolutions all have the best intentions for the village. Somewhere along the line it spun out of controll.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Apr 3, 10 10:03 AM
Thank you, Tired and SJD appear to be out for the WHBPD and it was finally so annoying I had to comment. Sadly, it has become entertainment, and I hope when other local boards have issues that those of you find it so entertaining now will step back and reflect on how it feels.
I would argue that some don't have the best of the intentions. If you were to watch the march board meeting on the village website (which I encourage all to do), you'll see resolutions added on which blatantly violate ...more
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 3, 10 12:39 PM
Actually, I think law clerks ARE lawyers.

I just don't "get" why it was such a big secret who wrote those resolutions, and aside from the Taylor Law issue, I don't think they are valid and binding.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Apr 3, 10 5:40 PM
Sorry, I should have been more specific. Law clerks generally only do research, and the one in question works for a judge researching laws. This means that his law work would be very limited, and I doubt he would have been up to the task of writing resolutions, and by the looks of it he wasn't. The distinction was in the work that they do, sorry for the confusion.
And I'm fairly certain that they are all invalid since they were written by someone other than the village attorney, as they explained ...more
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 3, 10 6:08 PM
I saw the bulk of the march meeting on the beach blog. As I previously stated this started as entertainment during the darks of winter. The east end is basicly made up of small communities like WHB and personal flare ups occur all the time at town and village meetings. These things could happen anywhere and it's good to be able to see how they are enventualy resolved with civility.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Apr 3, 10 1:00 PM
I would love to see it resolved as well, but this started in the fall, I would have preferred it be solved well before now. Having watched meetings for years now, I will say I can't remember anything like this flare up ever. It truly is at a level I have never seen from this village
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 3, 10 1:08 PM
I have never heard of anything like this on the east end in my years as well, not like this.
By Ebby (75), Sag Harbor on Apr 3, 10 10:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
Without claiming to know all of the details with regard to the violations...I would side with the Mayor's stance based on the fact that the core issue is with the integrity of the individuals. It is a bit disturbing that the board would disregard something this basic.
By TheGoodLife (43), Westhampton Beach on Apr 4, 10 4:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
Oh where, oh where has my Publius gone? Oh where, oh where can he be?
By Pedro Salazar (22), Center Moriches on Apr 4, 10 4:58 PM
why would the board not want the hearing????????must be something more,could they be hiding something??????they did have someone write unlawful resolutions and tried to hide who did that!!!!Strange why they acting as they are. time for hank to answer some questions before he tries to be mayor,i wouldn't want a mayor that couldn't answer where he recieved his "legal" advise pertaining to village matters!!!!!
By curious (77), westhampton beach on Apr 9, 10 3:59 PM