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Nov 18, 2008 11:23 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Noose found in woods prompts hate crimes legislation

Nov 18, 2008 11:23 AM

When a noose was found hanging from a Long Island Power Authority tower in the middle of the woods just west of the Southampton Town line in Bridgehampton on October 27, it sparked much public speculation about just what it meant.

It also sparked the Southampton Town Board to pass a resolution on November 14 establishing a policy for Southampton Town Police to follow when investigating hate crimes.

Town Board member Anna Throne-Holst, the board’s liaison to Southampton Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, introduced the resolution as a walk-on item at Friday’s Town Board work session. She said that it was introduced in reaction to the discovery of the noose, but also in reaction to the heightened racial sensitivity in the wake of the election and the murder of a Hispanic man in Patchogue in an apparent hate crime in the weeks since the noose was found.

“We need to assure the public that we have a policy when things like this happen,” she said. “It’s also important that the Town Board be informed when something like this occurs.”

Though Police Chief James Overton said this week that he was not sure of the intent behind the display of the noose, he did say that the department takes it seriously. Calling the noose “offensive,” he also made reference to a November 1 change in New York 
State law that makes the display of a noose on “any building or other real property, public or private, without permission of the property owner,” an act of aggravated harassment in the first degree.

“I think there has to be some basic sensitivity to fact that if it looks like it, smells like it, tastes like it to anyone, it should be investigated,” said Ms. Throne-Holst. “What we want to avoid is that we fall into a gray area and something gets overlooked.”

“You can say it’s right near Halloween, it’s a hunting area or a kid’s prank,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that we don’t take a chance on. As we know, things are happening right around the corner. We need to be very mindful of that and vigilant of that. This is not a thing that the town takes lightly.”

The resolution requires the police department to establish a policy within 30 days. “They haven’t had a specific policy. That’s not to say that they’ve been negligent,” she said.

Chief Overton said that he does not anticipate any difficulty in establishing the policy.

In the meantime, among the dog walkers and bicyclists who often hike the trails around Town Line Road, the noose is just another in a series of long-time problems in an area that neighbors call “no-man’s land.”

A Merchant’s Path resident who walks her dog in the woods near the power lines took a stroll through the woods with a reporter this week to talk about the ongoing problems of shooting and garbage dumping along the trails. She agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity, due to fear of retribution from the people who use the area as a shooting range.

“This is like the land of the lost,” said the woman, who said she’d seen two sets of policemen patrolling the area this past weekend, for the first time ever. She said that what tends to transpire in the woods is “yahoo-like messing around.”

The remains of bonfires were strewn all over the dirt Trustee road known as Town Line Road, which intersects the power lines just yards from where the noose was found about two dozen feet up LIPA tower No. 994. Shattered White Flyer skeet littered the ground, while a television set and a furnace door full of bullet holes were not far down the road. Abandoned couches were throughout the woods. The half-decomposed carcass of a deer that had been shot, stripped of its meat and left to rot was not far from the path. Crushed beer cans and empty shells were scattered on the ground. A bicycle hung precariously from the branches of a nearby tree.

The woman said that ATVs and dirt bikes are constantly digging up the road, which is severely rutted.

The property is not far from the Maidstone Gun Club, and the woman speculated that the location is a perfect auditory camouflage, since neighbors are used to hearing gunshots from the club.

Though she said she had been told by the Southampton Town Conservation Board that the shooting could continue as long as it was 500 feet from a house, police officers whom she met over the weekend told her that the shooting is illegal.

Officers of the Southampton Town Police Community Response Unit, which is conducting the patrols, could not be reached for comment.

Mike Bottini, an environmentalist and a Press columnist who often walks the trails, said that he has heard concerns of lead from the shot getting 
into the groundwater in the area. He said that the Southampton Town 
Trails Advisory Committee has held a number of cleanups to remove the 
junk that is often dumped in the woods. He also said that the town could consider fencing off the area around the power lines to keep mischief-makers out.

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