Detectives from Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota’s Government Corruption Bureau served a subpoena at Southampton Town Hall on Wednesday morning, seizing several boxes of Southampton Town Police Department records.
The subpoena was served “as part of an active investigation of the custodianship and status of police department records stored there,” Robert Clifford, a spokesman for the D.A., wrote in an email. “The town supervisor and the town attorney have been cooperative and accommodating during this ongoing investigation.”
Mr. Clifford’s remarks are the first time the D.A.’s office has acknowledged that it has been investigating the issue, though sources at Town Hall had confirmed such a probe months ago. Last week, Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato claimed the D.A.’s office was no longer interested in the documents.
The files have been stored at Town Hall for nearly a year, after Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst ordered their transfer from police headquarters in Hampton Bays in an effort to protect their integrity when allegations surfaced that police records were being destroyed and others were being removed from headquarters just prior to a change in police administration last spring, as Chief William Wilson Jr. took command of the department.
Former Police Captain Anthony Tenaglia, who has since retired, was in charge of the department at the time of the alleged document destruction.
It is not clear what the contents of the files are, but there is a possibility they could include criminal investigative files in addition to internal documents and police personnel records.
The subpoena comes about two weeks after Chief Wilson tried to have the documents returned to police headquarters, stating that he had been reluctant to accept responsibility for the documents until then, noting that they might have been tampered with.
His recent attempt to have the records returned was sparked by “investigative issues” that he said required his access to the records. He did not get the records at that time, however. Town officials said they wanted to copy the records first, and a date and time set up to do that was postponed when police investigators assigned to oversee the document reproduction had to turn their attention to a homicide investigation.
Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, however, said the chief had full access to the records.
“I believe that the files should be returned to headquarters and it is my understanding that the chief has always had the ability to review those files whenever he saw fit,” Mr. Nuzzi said this week, before the subpoena was served. “I, along with others at Town Hall, have had that exact conversation with him directly on several different occasions.”
Detectives arrived at Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer’s office, where the records were stored in a double-vault, at about 9 a.m. Wednesday, although they had to wait until about 10 a.m. until Ms. Schermeyer arrived with the key.
Chief Wilson said he felt Ms. Throne-Holst did the right thing in directing the official movement of the records to Town Hall to protect their identity in light of the shredding and improper removal allegations. “Who knows what would have happened if she hadn’t taken that step,” he said. “But what bothers me is there should have been no actions going on at Southampton Town Police headquarters which necessitated the movement of those records to begin with.”
He said they should have been left untouched until he began his employment on May 16, and then, “if there were concerns about records, they could have been examined in an orderly fashion, which would have alleviated all this speculation and the appearance of impropriety.”
He noted that documents must be handled properly, and that police documents are particularly sensitive.
“Anytime there’s shredding and files leaving in cars, especially 48 hours before a new police chief or chief executive comes in, that opens up the door for tremendous amounts of scrutiny,” he said, citing the allegations. “Police departments operate on credibility, and when you open yourself up to scrutiny, or you do things that aren’t necessarily correct, it undermines the public trust in law enforcement—and that is inexcusable and unnecessary,” he said. “So at the end of the day, it’s very possible that once these files are looked at, they could be completely benign. Nobody knows. That’s the problem.”