A retired Southampton Village Police sergeant was arrested by Southampton Town Police on Thursday night, January 31, following a fight at a Bridgehampton restaurant that left one man in intensive care at Southampton Hospital.
The retired officer, Darren Gagnon, 51, of Shirley, was arrested shortly after 6 p.m. at Bobby Van’s Restaurant on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton after a verbal dispute with another man, whom police have not identified, led to a physical altercation.
Witnesses said this week that Mr. Gagnon, who retired from the Village Police last year, hit the man three times in the head and neck after the victim told him to “go away.” Three witnesses to the fight, who asked not to be identified, said that the victim did not throw any punches and made no physically threatening motions toward Mr. Gagnon prior to the assault.
At least two other retired Village Police officers were present as well, though witnesses said that the other men, including former Village Police and Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr., had just entered the building when the fight broke out.
“The other two guys walk in, they didn’t even have their coats off and he went over to [the victim]—I was looking right at it—and punches him in the throat,” one witness said. “He goes down, hits his head on the bar and is out cold. There was blood coming from his mouth.”
Mr. Wilson, whose retirement from the Town Police in December was the occasion for the three longtime Village Police colleagues meeting at the restaurant, gave a similar account of the sudden and short-lived altercation. He said that the third man meeting himself and Mr. Gagnon, former Lieutenant Howard Lewis, had barely entered the building when the fight happened.
“I had literally just walked through the door, I have no idea what it was about because I never even spoke to [Mr. Gagnon] after the incident,” Mr. Wilson said when reached by telephone this week. “I was hanging my coat on the back of a chair and the next thing I knew it was over. I was dumbfounded.”
All three witnesses interviewed said that Mr. Gagnon had approached a group of people who were gathered at one end of the restaurant’s bar, including the victim, twice in a matter of a few minutes. During at least one of the encounters, which were initially cordial, the victim apparently addressed Mr. Gagnon directly and told him to go away, and even “got in his face a little” according to one witness. When he approached the group a third time, Mr. Gagnon initiated the assault without any words being exchanged.
Two witnesses said Mr. Gagnon had told those he was with that he was heading across the bar with the intention of punching the other man—an allegation Mr. Wilson disputes: “He said nothing like that to me. We exchanged hellos, and that’s about it.”
The victim, according to Town Police, was transported to Southampton Hospital via Bridgehampton Fire Department Ambulance for treatment of his injuries.
Mr. Gagnon was charged with assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor. He was taken into custody, booked at Town Police headquarters in Hampton Bays and subsequently released with an appearance ticket. He is due back at Southampton Town Justice Court at a later date. If convicted, he could face as much as a year in jail.
Assault in the third degree differs from assault in the second degree, a felony count, by the degree of intent to cause injury; a felony count can be filed when the investigating officer believes the intent was to inflict “serious” injury, such as by using a weapon.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood and I haven’t seen anything like this since then,” said one of the witnesses. “This was a brutal attack. He waited till his friends got there, then he sucker-punched the guy.”