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Nov 10, 2010 10:01 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Embattled Westhampton Beach Village Police Officer Facing Additional Charges

Nov 10, 2010 10:01 AM

Suffolk County Police investigators have leveled additional departmental charges against one of two embattled Westhampton Beach Village Police officers.

At a meeting last Thursday, November 4, the Village Board suspended Officer Joseph Pesapane for 30 days without pay—marking his second such suspension this year. Officer Pesapane is one of two officers already suspended and undergoing disciplinary hearings for charges stemming from a 2009 incident involving another officer’s missing handgun.

While Village Board members did not name Officer Pesapane during last week’s meeting, the attorney representing both officers, William Keahon, confirmed on Friday that the new charges are directed at the officer.

“My only comment is that we put in a denial, and we’re waiting for a date for any hearing, any proposed hearing,” Mr. Keahon said.

Officer Pesapane was originally charged with lying once during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau investigation into the 2009 handgun incident. The new charges include two counts of making false statements and one count of intentionally providing false or incomplete information to investigators, according to Mr. Teller. The first two charges stem from statements the officer made to outside investigators in July 2010, and the third allegation stems from June 2009, Mr. Teller said.

Suffolk County Police investigators would not comment on the matter, according to a spokeswoman, and instead referred all questions on the matter to Mr. Teller and Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean.

Michael Bruetsch, a second Westhampton Beach Village Police officer, was charged with three counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer and five counts of lying in relation to the 2009 incident. Both of those officers had previously been suspended without pay in July, but began receiving salaries again in August, while remaining suspended from duty. Officer Pesapane’s pay will once again be frozen for 30 work days as a result of the action by the Village Board on Thursday.

Officer Pesapane earns just over $104,000 a year, while Officer Bruetsch makes just under $117,000, according to Village Clerk Kathy McGinnis.

The new charges leveled against Officer Pesapane will be addressed during his ongoing disciplinary hearing, according to Mr. Teller. The hearings are not open to the public.

The hearing for Officer Pesapane began in early August, and has not reconvened since then due to scheduling conflicts, according to Mr. Teller. The hearing is scheduled to continue on Wednesday, November 24, at 10 a.m., the mayor said.

The hearing for Officer Bruetsch also began in early August, and has not reconvened since then. Mr. Teller said Mr. Keahon is currently negotiating with the village’s labor attorney, Richard Zuckerman, over an aspect of the hearing.

“He’s been offered certain things, and they made adjustments on something, and they’ve been going back and forth,” Mr. Teller said. He declined to elaborate.

At last week’s meeting, three Village Board members—Mr. Teller, Deputy Mayor Toni-Jo Birk and Trustee Sue Farrell—agreed to suspend Officer Pesapane without pay for a second time, and to approve transcription services for his disciplinary hearing. Trustee Joan Levan voted against both resolutions while Hank Tucker, the fifth board member, missed the meeting because he was recovering from surgery, according to Mr. Teller.

Ms. Levan and Mr. Tucker have opposed disciplinary hearings for the two officers in the past.

Village Hires Attorney

Also at last week’s meeting, Village Board members agreed to hire Riverhead attorney Anthony Tohill to represent them in an ongoing dispute over a proposed symbolic Jewish religious boundary known as an eruv.

The East End Eruv Association, a non-profit group looking to create an eruv in the area, has secured tentative permission from both Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority to affix markings, known as “lechis,” to utility poles. The lechis are needed to delineate the eruv’s boundaries. Marvin Tenzer, the president of the association and Westhampton Beach resident, said his organization will not seek permission from the village to create the eruv and is asking only that it not break civil rights laws by opposing the boundary’s establishment.

East End Eruv Association wants an eruv that would surround Westhampton Beach and the hamlet of Quiogue, and encompass parts of Quogue Village and the hamlet of Westhampton. The enclosure would allow Orthodox Jews to carry and push items on the Sabbath, actions that are not allowed out of doors on their day of rest.

All five Village Board members have stated that they oppose the eruv, citing the opposition of many village residents.

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