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Mar 16, 2011 12:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Suspended Westhampton Beach Police Officer Challenges Punishment

Mar 16, 2011 12:04 PM

A week after being suspended without pay for the third time in a year, Westhampton Beach Village Police Officer Joseph Pesapane filed a grievance challenging the number of paid days that the village seized as punishment for his role in a 2009 incident involving another officer’s missing handgun, according to Mayor Conrad Teller.

On March 8, the Village Board members unanimously signed off on a recommendation from disciplinary hearing officer Stephen Bluth to take 20 days of accrued sick and vacation time from Officer Pesapane effective that day. Mayor Teller said Officer Pesapane had only 12.5 days of accrued time remaining, resulting in a suspension without pay beginning March 9 for the difference, or 7.5 days.

The officer is now claiming that he has accrued enough time to completely satisfy the penalty, Mr. Teller said, and filed a letter on Tuesday with Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean, who was out of town and could not be reached for comment. The mayor, who has not seen the letter itself, said he has been informed about its contents from others.

“I know he’s quibbling, and that’s that,” Mr. Teller said about the suspended officer. “But one way or the other, we’re going to get 20 days from him, whether it still comes from this suspension or from days from his records. There’s no doubt about that in my mind. Still, this is a labor matter and will need to be reviewed by our labor attorney.”

Once the unpaid suspension ends, Officer Pesapane will remain on suspension but be allowed to resume collecting his nearly $91,500 salary. He will forfeit almost $7,900 in salary, according to village officials.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Richard Zuckerman, the village’s labor attorney, had not been contacted by the village, he said. Mr. Zuckerman pointed out that in village employee contracts, there is a clause stating that a suspended worker can receive only base salary payments and cannot earn sick or vacation time.

“If I were to guess, that’s where [Officer Pesapane] and the village may have a difference of opinion,” Mr. Zuckerman said. “Maybe he doesn’t understand that and there’s the confusion.”

William Keahon, Officer Pesapane’s defense attorney, said on Wednesday morning that he had no knowledge of his client’s challenge.

Officer Pesapane was originally charged with lying once during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs investigation after a fellow officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters in November 2009. The disciplinary hearing began in August and wrapped up about two months ago.

The officer still faces another round of charges stemming from the same incident—two counts of making false statements and one count of intentionally providing false information to investigations. Mayor Teller said two or three more witnesses will be heard at the hearing, which is closed to the public and is also being run by Mr. Bluth, and added that it could end this month.

Alongside Officer Pesapane, fellow Westhampton Beach Police Officer Michael Bruetsch is also facing charges from the same incident—three counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer and five counts of lying to outside investigators. The hearing for Officer Bruetsch, who has been suspended with pay since August, was scheduled to reconvene on Monday but he called in sick, according to the mayor.

“He called in and said he was bedridden,” Mayor Teller said, “but it wasn’t done until 9 a.m. The hearing was supposed to start at 10 a.m., so everybody was here waiting. But we’ll continue on. We’ll persevere.”

Mr. Keahon said Officer Pesapane recently had a disc removed from his back and was unable to attend the hearing because he was recuperating.

“He has a plate and four screws in it now and he’s under a lot of medication,” Mr. Keahon said. “He couldn’t come to the hearing that day, so we’re rescheduling it. I imagine it will be within the next three weeks.”

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