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Jul 9, 2012 3:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Suspends Second Police Officer; Police Union Stands Behind Cop

Jul 11, 2012 1:26 PM

A second member of the Southampton Town Police Department’s disbanded undercover drug enforcement unit has been suspended and is now facing disciplinary charges—prompting the vice president of the police union to blast town officials for the move.

The suspension of 12-year police veteran Eric Sickles, unanimously approved on Tuesday afternoon by the Town Board, comes in the wake of a broadening internal misconduct investigation targeting the police department’s disbanded Street Crime Unit. That investigation has already prompted the Suffolk County district attorney’s office to release two convicted felons from prison because the credibility of the evidence used to convict them was called into question due to the conduct of the Street Crime Unit officers who arrested them.

It was also revealed this week that the town has hired a powerful New York City law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani to act as its legal counsel during the investigation by the DA’s office following its seizure in May of years of police department records that were being stored at Town Hall.

Officer Sickles has been served with a handful of non-criminal disciplinary charges by Town Police Department Chief William Wilson Jr. The Town Board voted to suspend Officer Sickles indefinitely, without pay, on Tuesday until a disciplinary hearing can be held. His base salary for 2012 is $109,882, according to town records.

Officer Sickles’s conduct during investigations while he was a member of the Street Crime Unit, which reportedly included being under the influence of drugs while on duty and falling asleep while driving a department vehicle, is said to have led to the release of the two convicted felons in May and raised doubts about the strength of dozens of other cases and convictions.

But on Wednesday, police officer Kevin Gwinn, the vice president of the Southampton Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, said the town was sending the wrong message to town employees seeking help with drug problems and hailed Officer Sickles for taking a dangerous assignment most officers would refuse.

“It’s a disgrace that the town would file charges nine months after Police Officer Sickles voluntarily addressed his needs as allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act,” Officer Gwinn said, “rights afforded to all employees so as to encourage the strength to move forward.

“Police Officer Sickles answered the call and he and his family gave of themselves for our town and this is how we repay him for nine years of service in a hazardous assignment that most police officers would not do,” he continued. “Police Officer Sickles is an outstanding officer. He is a highly decorated officer with an unblemished record. Why would any employee in Southampton Town ever come forward again. The Southampton Town Board has delivered a dangerous message with this action. The PBA stands by Officer Sickles during this tough time and will take action on his behalf. I question the timing and true motive for this decision to suspend.”

Town Police Lieutenant James Kiernan, the head of the Street Crime Unit for most of the nine years that Officer Sickles served as one of its detectives, also was suspended by the Town Board in May after Chief Wilson leveled more than 30 disciplinary charges against the 15-year department veteran. The charges filed by Chief Wilson against Lt. Kiernan, handed down just six months after he was promoted to lieutenant, included allowing Officer Sickles to continue to carry a firearm, drive department vehicles and make arrests despite having been aware of the officer’s drug problem. He is also accused of trying to cover up Officer Sickles’s drug abuse, according to the charges.

Town Board members refused to comment on the suspension of Officer Sickles or the ongoing broader investigation focusing on the police department and Lt. Kiernan, though Town Councilman Jim Malone said he thinks the town is addressing all of the issues appropriately.

“It’s terribly disappointing,” Mr. Malone said of the circumstances leading to Officer Sickles’s suspension. “But between the town attorney’s office and the folks we have as special counsel, I know the town is going to pursue this smartly, and we look forward to bringing it to a conclusion as soon as possible.”

Both Officer Sickles and Lt. Kiernan were directly involved in the investigation that ultimately led to the arrests of Mohammed Proctor and Bernard Cooks, who were each released from their prison sentences in May following a review of the cases against them by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota. Additionally, the cases made against more than 100 individuals who were arrested while Lt. Kiernan headed the Street Crime Unit are also under review by the district attorney’s investigators, and Mr. Spota has said that the dismissal of more cases is possible.

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Let me start-NO COMMENTS
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jul 9, 12 4:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
his "base salary" is $2100 a week ? Holy Crap !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Jul 9, 12 4:43 PM
2 members liked this comment
Can anyone spell "municipal bankruptcy" regarding all SH Town vested line items in the budget for all employees, not just the PD? (for the next 30-40 years of legacy health etc. benefits not currently funded in the SH Town budget)

Hope all property owners have a reserve fund for how weird this could get.

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle !!!
By Nero (276), Sag Harbor on Jul 9, 12 5:25 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ever look at your tax bill? Did you notice that STPD taxes are LESS than your Firefighters tax? And firefighters are volunteers... hmm, that's weird isn't it?

I'm not saying the pay for cops is OK and we shouldn't scrutinize it, but how much does it REALLY cost you?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 9, 12 10:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
What kind of idiotic logic is that?

If the government paid $15000 for a hammer but it cost you less than a penny's worth of taxed to cover would you be ok with that?

Pay the cops who put their lives in serious danger generous salaries, not these small town keystone cops.
Jul 12, 12 8:01 PM appended by RealityFirst
taxed=taxes
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on Jul 12, 12 8:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
Hey. How about Toni Jo birk the former Westhampton Beach Village Trustee getting lifetime medical benefits for serving 6 yrs in public office. She is 52. Imagine what that will cost the taxpayers. Upwards of $600,000 Nobody I's complaining. What a deal. Greece here we come.
By realistic (463), westhampton on Jul 9, 12 7:48 PM
3 members liked this comment
Ha! And yet everyone bashes teachers. His BASE pay is more than most teachers retire at, and he probably makes almost as much in overtime.
By bubby (236), southampton on Jul 9, 12 9:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
So funny everyone is concerned about his salary which is totally IRRELEVANT!!! ...and lke Nature stated above, LOOK AT UR TAX BILL PEOPLE!!! this is one hard working cop who got caught up in some political bullshit! Lets take a real look at that tax bill and begin to magnify your teachers...your highest tax is school tax and teachers don't even have to pass a drug test!! WTF?!??!?! These people are with our children for 8 +hrs a day....and most of them couldn't pass a drug tet if hey studied!! ...more
By lilnc (4), PATCHOGUE on Jul 10, 12 12:33 AM
What's your horse in this manure pen?
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jul 15, 12 10:49 PM
Municipal salaries and benefits are more ore less uniform across Long Island and over the last several decades were generally awarded behind closed doors through binding arbitration.
You all remember the politicians who dared to stand up to the municipal unions?
They're the ones we didn't elect to office....
So who's to blame?
By aging hipster (177), Southampton on Jul 10, 12 6:48 AM
1 member liked this comment
Taxes and salary have nothing to do with this article. These too EMPLOYEES of Southampton broke the law. THEY SHOULD BE FIRED ON THE SPOT!!! People on minimum wage are subject to drug testing and are terminated immediately if test is positive.
By kpjc (159), east quogue on Jul 10, 12 7:12 AM
3 members liked this comment
Another dirty cop? What a surprise. He will probably keep his pension & benefits while our schools are overrun by drugs. Were his busts simply personal resupply runs? What else is the SHTPD hiding? Worst case - this dirty druggie will end up working for the Quogue PD with all the other rejects & druggies. Superior officers at work!
By G (325), Southampton on Jul 10, 12 7:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
Police put their life on the line everyday. What they are paid shouldn't be an issue. They deserve a decent salary as well as other professions do. One bad officer doesn't mean the whole force is corrupt. We don't know the whole story so let the judicial system do its job.
By lulu631 (7), Sag Harbor on Jul 10, 12 10:12 AM
1 member liked this comment
Well they certainly get a decent salary that's for sure! LOL
By bb (862), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 6:27 PM
Explain to me how they put their life on the line more than any other profession. How many police officers have died in the line of duty on the east end?
By dnice (2345), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 9:45 PM
Let's not forget that Spota released two convicted Drug Dealers because of the manner in which SHPD handled their case. There is a civil lawsuit which will cost the taxpayers millions. If both officers are found guilty of the charges against them they should be fired.
By crusader (390), East Quogue on Jul 10, 12 3:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
109,000 nice job to sit in car and do drugs!!!!!!!!!!
i wish i could make 109,000 and not do drugs!!!!!!!!!!
By TO BAD (24), hampton bay on Jul 10, 12 5:58 PM
1 member liked this comment
who put his life on the line he put other peoples lives on the line doing drugs and falling asleep in cop car on the job LOLOLOL!!!!!!!!
what a joke that why normal people cant live in the hampton bay!!!!!!!!!!!!
By TO BAD (24), hampton bay on Jul 10, 12 6:01 PM
They put their lives on the line?? hahaha. Half these idiots go out on disability on bs injuries. If the cops don't like the job they should quit there are 10k people in line for the job. The Justice system doing it's job is another joke the guy hasn't even been charged yet. Time to disband the keystone cops.
By chief1 (2657), southampton on Jul 10, 12 9:13 PM
Why has this dragged on so long? What to cops do in SHTN???? Parking tickets, fenderbenders, drug gangs, and of course the dune road mafia running rampant.... come on guys be real cops!!!
By Tommy Turbo (51), Deep River, CT on Jul 10, 12 9:27 PM
What happened on Tuesday? No update. My guess is the town board did nothing.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jul 11, 12 5:25 AM
On Tuesday one of the first lawsuits was filed by someone who dated one of these dirtbags daughters. This will be the first of many lawsuits - get ready for SHT to be bled dry! Thanks to the SHTPD for being so Superior! Our taxes will reflect that Superior work & attitude, while our Schools are overrun with drugs.

Where is the SHT PBA? Not here or in the article singing their members praises & making excuses? Sickles will be portrayed as a victim of drug abuse - pathetic!
By G (325), Southampton on Jul 11, 12 6:26 AM
2 members liked this comment
Does anyone believe anything the PBA says, so the use of drugs by the people who are sworn to arrest others for doing the same thing is categorized as an "oustanding officer". This from the same bunch that marched into town hall and berated the Supervisor- do you think the same BS would be tolerated by the state Police for example? I wonder
By bayarea (46), hampton bays on Jul 11, 12 2:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Lot of very judgmental comments here by those without any idea of what really happened.

I was hoping that the WebEditor would take EastEnd68's lead and disable Comments to prevent yahoos from displaying their prejudices and ignorance until more facts are known.
By Frank Wheeler (1810), Northampton on Jul 11, 12 3:04 PM
Police officers are - or should be - held to a higher standard. Being under the influence of controlled substances while being authorized to carry and use deadly weapons is a grave risk to the public and calls into question every judgment the officer makes. Airline pilots are not even allowed to take aspirin while flying; this drug was much stronger, it seems.
By Funbeer (257), Southampton on Jul 11, 12 4:43 PM
3 members liked this comment
I know I said 'no comments" but Kevin Gwinn can't be serious. This is not someone who addressed his addiction problem and shought help-he got caught and ran for cover.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jul 11, 12 6:52 PM
2 members liked this comment
I'm trying to understand this. It is not a criminal offense to be on duty of the SHTPD while under the influence of drugs? This is as criminal as it gets folks forget this idiots salary what about the millions in litigation and future payouts. Kevin Gwimm is the poster boy of why people hate cops double standards for cops period. Poor cops what a hard job writing tickets to the poor slob late to work. Or drugging it up while on duty. It is time to disband these clowns and time for Kevin Gwinn to ...more
By chief1 (2657), southampton on Jul 11, 12 9:05 PM
4 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By G (325), Southampton on Jul 12, 12 7:17 AM
2 members liked this comment
Officer Gwinn is a superb union rep and worth every cent of the $$225K/yr. that the PBA pays him. Oh, wait, WE pay him.

Jul 13, 12 11:17 AM appended by highhatsize
STPD annual compensation can be viewed on the Town of Southampton website at : http://www.southamptontownny.gov/ftp/Budget/2012/ADOPTED/-17-2012-ADOPTED-Police.pdf
By highhatsize (3958), East Quogue on Jul 12, 12 11:17 AM
Yes, it was Gwinn who told Kabot at a town board meeting that she was going to be a one term supervisor and that was before she was arrested. A person with a powerful reach he is.
By fix-it-now (216), sag harbor on Jul 12, 12 12:32 PM
You sound like Yoda. See if you can help Nuzzi lift his career out of the swamp. The Force is strong with this one.
By Geppetto (59), Southampton on Jul 12, 12 8:44 PM
Where did that salary information come from? If that's true I'm signing up tomorrow. Oh by the way, I pay more in taxes for teachers than police. Alot more!
By khan (36), hampton bays on Jul 13, 12 2:15 AM
Gwinn expressed his shock at the Town Board bringing charges 9 months after hero Sickles came forward with his problem. In another article here it says hero Sickles is now in rehab. Has he been in rehab for 9 months? Or did he just go last week when he realized he was getting suspended. Shocking!
By G (325), Southampton on Jul 12, 12 2:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
Officer Sickles seems to be doing what most people who break the law when on drugs. They go to a rehab for thirty days to show a judge they deserve leniency. This is why we have so many repeat offenders in the criminal justice system.
By chief1 (2657), southampton on Jul 13, 12 7:32 AM
2 members liked this comment
Could someone please explain why the PBA would stand behind a guy, actually two guys, if the information that has been released is correct. Reality check...a cop was working under the influence of drugs and his superior officer was turning his head the other way...putting citizens in harms way...putting fellow officers in harms way....and now the town is being sued because while under the influence and the head turning was going on they violated someone's civil rights???? They do not deserve ...more
By BeachGal (72), Hampton Bays on Jul 12, 12 4:44 PM
4 members liked this comment
Because the PBA only cares about its own- regardless of what behavior their members engage in.
By bayarea (46), hampton bays on Jul 13, 12 9:24 AM
We have way more teachers than cops. The average cops salary is substantially higher than the average teachers salary and teachers don't get overtime!
The school district portion of our taxes goes to many things, not just teachers salaries.
The officer Sickles in question seems to have failed to follow the oath he took as a police officer. Of course the union will stand by him regardless of guilt or innocence, that's what the union is paid to do. If only all the cops did what they're paid ...more
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jul 15, 12 10:47 PM
Teacherssalaryinfo.com. Theres way more teachers and administrative personnel than police. Matter of fact 1 school has almost 3x as many police. If you look again the average school employee's salary is if not the same than higher. But, this story is not about salaries. It's about one cop who, from all these stories definitely should not have been acting as an officer looking over my families safety. As far as disbanding? What a ridiculous comment. The SCPD would take over, raising our taxes and ...more
By khan (36), hampton bays on Jul 17, 12 10:57 AM
That's why we don't need unions they lie and cheat anyway they can to keep as many members as possible. Time to shutdown the SHTPD it is out of hand. PS It's time to clawback Overtons pension he was the clown asleep at the wheel.
By chief1 (2657), southampton on Jul 16, 12 3:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Overton and Tenaglia were both asleep at the wheel for so many years and all of this is a direct cause from them......I hope they are held accountable also
By mrobin (119), North Sea on Jul 17, 12 5:52 PM
It is long past time for the Town Board to have sent out requests to private security firms for proposals to replace this bloated, corrupt cadre of stupendously overpaid, self-righteous "public servants" with a sworn, contract force.

It is too late to avoid the avalanche of lawsuits that their misfeasance has engendered but we could, at least, assure that we are never again stuck in the same abysmal hole that he are now, encumbered with a hugely expensive and inept force who regard the ...more
By highhatsize (3958), East Quogue on Jul 20, 12 9:45 AM
Talking about overpaid. I took a gLANCE at your paycheck. Only if city teachers can make as much.
By khan (36), hampton bays on Jul 20, 12 3:01 PM