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Nov 11, 2008 9:30 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Former police sergeant sues East Hampton Town, Village for $10 million

Nov 11, 2008 9:30 AM

Former East Hampton Town Police sergeant Robert Wood, who was charged last year by Village Police with interfering in an investigation and was later cleared of the charges by a Suffolk County judge, has sued the Town of East Hampton, and the Village of East Hampton and its top officials for false arrest and violation of his constitutional rights.

“I’m looking for my name to be cleared. The village went out of their way to publicize my arrest and to humiliate me and that was injurious to me,” Mr. Wood said Monday. “These things shouldn’t happen. You shouldn’t violate people’s civil rights.”

Town Police Chief Sarris said last week that, as far as the town is concerned, he believes the “lawsuit is baseless and frivolous and without merit and we look forward to aggressively defending ourselves when the time comes.” He said he couldn’t comment on any specific allegations in the suit.

Chief Larsen said, “Once the facts come out, I’m sure this case will be dismissed,” but declined to comment further.

Mayor Rickenbach also declined to comment, other than saying the village has received the suit and will hire an attorney to represent it.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Islip on October 15, seeks $10 million in damages, a reinstatement of Mr. Wood’s position as a police sergeant, and seeks a permanent injunction against the defendants named in the suit that would prevent them from further violating his constitutional rights. He also requests a hearing with Town Police over disciplinary action the police pursued against him.

Mr. Wood said the disciplinary charges were in connection with his alleged interference with the Village Police department’s investigation, but he said he could not remember what the charges were specifically.

“The arrest and the indictment led to tremendous financial damages and emotional damages. The town’s bringing disciplinary charges has brought significant harm to Mr. Wood’s career,” said one of Mr. Wood’s attorneys, Eric Tilton, with the law office of Steven A. Morelli in Carle Place. “The town brought these charges over a year ago and failed to have a hearing on them, which leaves Mr. Wood’s career in limbo.”

In addition to the town and village, named in the suit are Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen; Town Police Chief Todd Sarris, Town Police Captain Kevin Sarlo, Town Police Lt. Michael Sarlo, Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr., Village Police Captain Michael Tracey, Village Lt. Richard Schneider and Village Police Officer Julio Mario Galeano.

Mr. Wood claims in the suit that he was “selectively prosecuted” by Chief Larsen, Captain Tracey, Lt. Schneider and Officer Galeano when he was charged with interfering with a village police drug surveillance.

In the suit, Mr. Wood also claims that he was deprived of his constitutional right to speak freely with his then wife, the former Lisa Wood, who is now married to Chief Larsen.

The suit cites an affair between Wood’s wife and Chief Larsen, sometime in 2004 and 2005, before the Woods formally separated in August 2005. As a result of the affair and the “false arrest” of Mr. Wood in the surveillance case, Mr. Wood claims that Chief Larsen became his “enemy” and conspired to alienate Mr. Wood and his wife.

“The village violated my rights by committing perjury with the false arrest ... The suit is basically about Chief Larsen using his vehicle to conduct personal business and conduct an affair with my wife while he was married and she was married to me. He was interfering with my marriage and violating my civil liberties,” Mr. Wood said.

In the suit, Mr. Wood claims that Chief Larsen and Mr. Wood’s wife were seen driving together in “police-owned and insured” vehicles and that Chief Larsen was “not conducting himself in an upright and moral manner, which is required of police officers in the village.”

Mr. Wood claims that he checked Chief Larsen’s duty records with the village between 2004 and 2005 to prove that the chief was “wasting taxpayer money” by using department vehicles while engaging in “personal matters—namely to have an affair with Wood’s wife while on and off duty.”

The village stopped providing the duty charts at Chief Larsen’s request, violating rules and procedures of the Village Police department, Mr. Wood alleges.

In the suit, Mr. Wood claims he was outspoken as a town officer and a member of the officer’s union beginning in 1988 through the time he was promoted to sergeant in 2004 and was an advocate for officers’ rights under the collective bargaining agreement. He alleges that this angered the town defendants “who continued their widespread practice of retaliating against officers who spoke out regarding such issues.”

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Why would Wood want his job back? It's the administrators of both departments who are busting his chops, not the rank and file. A word of advice pal. Take the million or two, the town and village will try to settle with you and don't look back!
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Nov 13, 08 5:02 PM