Police Officer Removed Body Camera While on Scene of Fellow Cop's Off-Duty Rollover Accident - 27 East

Police Officer Removed Body Camera While on Scene of Fellow Cop’s Off-Duty Rollover Accident

Westhampton Beach Police Officer Removes Body Cam at Scene of Fellow Officer's Crash
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Westhampton Beach Police Officer Removes Body Cam at Scene of Fellow Officer's Crash

The overturned SUV on a Bridle Path front yard.    WESTHAMPTON BEACH VILLAGE POLICE

The overturned SUV on a Bridle Path front yard. WESTHAMPTON BEACH VILLAGE POLICE

The overturned SUV on a Bridle Path front yard.   WESTHAMPTON BEACH VILLAGE POLICE

The overturned SUV on a Bridle Path front yard. WESTHAMPTON BEACH VILLAGE POLICE

Brendan J. O’Reilly on May 24, 2023

At the scene of a single-vehicle accident in late 2021, in which an off-duty Westhampton Beach Village Police officer had overturned an SUV in the village, a fellow police officer responding to the crash removed his body-worn camera before interviewing the driver.

Later, when Police Chief Steven McManus asked the responding officer if an interview with the driver had been conducted on camera, the officer told the chief, “No, because when I got here it was so late.”

The Southampton Press learned of the November 28, 2021, accident after filing a Freedom of Information request for police disciplinary files from recent years — a request The Press made of every police department on the South Fork.

In response, Westhampton Beach Village Police provided a written reprimand of Officer Connor Raynor and, upon further inquiry, a settlement agreement between the village and Raynor dated March 8, 2022, in which he accepted 60 days of unpaid suspension to resolve disciplinary charges related to failing to immediately report the accident and being in possession of an off-duty firearm while under the influence of alcohol.

The Press followed up with a Freedom of Information request for photos and officers’ body cam footage from the accident investigation, and also requested that the Southampton Town Police, which handles dispatching for the Westhampton Beach Police, provide a recording of the phone call that first reported the accident.

The call to dispatchers, at 6:33 a.m., was from a tow truck driver. He told the dispatcher that a man had asked him to come to Bridle Path to get a vehicle that was on its side. He explained to the dispatcher that he would not do so, in case there were injuries or property damage. “I’m not doing it without the police,” he told the dispatcher.

According to the accident report, police officers began looking for the vehicle a minute later but were unable to find it. An officer called the dispatchers for more information at 6:55 a.m. and then called the towing company. He received the phone number of the person who had called the towing company but was unable to get through to that person.

Raynor then called the officer at 7:01 a.m. and reported being in an accident on Bridle Path, at which point the officer located the accident scene.

The accident report states that the officer arrived to find Raynor and a relative waiting. The Chevrolet Tahoe that Raynor was driving was on its side on a front lawn.

The officer pulled up and asked Raynor if he was injured, to which Raynor said he had exited the vehicle on his own and had walked home, according to the accident report.

This interaction was not among the body camera footage the police department provided — but the footage did include a clip of a police officer, within a few minutes of arriving on scene, removing his body cam, and another officer putting it inside a police vehicle.

The video clip is four minutes long and, according to the timestamp, the recording began at 7:05 a.m., 12 minutes after sunrise in Westhampton Beach. At first, the camera is facing the Tahoe and three people — one uniformed police officer and two people in civilian attire. The officer wearing the body cam hangs up a phone call on an iPhone, turns around to face across the street, and walks forward. A man stands at the end of the driveway to the house across the street. Two police SUVs are parked on the street, including a Quogue Village Police vehicle.

Just before the officer steps onto the pavement to cross the street, his hand covers half the camera lens. He turns around and outstretches his arm, passing the camera to an officer who walks the camera to a police vehicle. As the officer who took the camera is walking across the street toward the police vehicle, with the camera at his side, the officer who had been wearing the camera originally can be seen approaching the man standing at the end of the driveway.

There is no audio on the clip until the 30-second mark. At that point, the camera makes a buzzing sound, indicating it is recording sound.

“Did this just kick on, or no?” an officer asks.

“No, no, no, it shouldn’t have,” another officer replies, as the camera is laid face up inside the vehicle. “No, you’re good, I think,” he says, before adding, “Oh, wait, yeah,” then turning the camera over, so the lens faces down, and closing the door to the vehicle.

After two and a half minutes, the door opens again. “Where did you put my camera?” an officer asks before retrieving it. The clip ends.

Another clip, nearly 16 minutes long, taken by the same camera, begins at 8:10 a.m. as McManus arrived on scene. The officer and the chief walk the road from where Raynor had reported he had fallen asleep at the wheel, awoke and skidded on a leaf pile, before over-correcting and crashing. The officer tells the chief that Raynor was present earlier and that they spoke briefly. “He was here when I got here,” the officer says.

The chief surveyed the overturned vehicle and questions how the driver is alive after that crash.

“Leave the camera on until I’m out of here,” the chief instructs the officer.

The chief asks if Raynor gave a statement, which the officer confirms Raynor did, and when he is done assessing the scene instructs the officer to call a wrecker to remove the vehicle. He had earlier told officers not to remove the vehicle until after he visited the scene.

The officer takes close-up photos of the overturned Tahoe, and has a brief phone call with Raynor as he does, asking Raynor to come back to the scene to give a “full report” at the chief’s request. The officer then checks the Tahoe’s registration and learns it is expired. He tells the chief, who tells him to write Raynor a ticket.

The officer calls Raynor and tells him to come back to the scene at the chief’s request. Raynor, according to what the officer told the chief, was reluctant to return “in his sweatpants” but agreed to walk back there. The chief said, “He’s got to report the accident,” though the officer explained that Raynor had, in fact, done so earlier in person.

“You observed him,” the chief asks. “He came down here?”

“He was right there,” the officer replies, pointing with his finger. “He was in that driveway right there when I got here.”

The officer offered to talk to Raynor again, and McManus began to say, “No, no” — but then the chief asked if Raynor had been on camera.

“No, because when I got here it was so late,” the officer said.

The chief told the officer to do the interview again, on camera: “For the camera, whatever he said to you before,” the chief said.

The chief leaves, and the officer walks in Raynor’s direction to meet him halfway. It is 8:25 a.m. when the officer interviews Raynor on camera for less than a minute, asking if Raynor was the sole occupant and if he was in need of medical assistance. Raynor says he was the only person in the vehicle, he is uninjured and had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Though Raynor was reprimanded for carrying his off-duty firearm while under the influence of alcohol prior to the crash, none of the documents provided explained how it was determined that Raynor had done so. Raynor was not accused of being under the influence while driving.

McManus said on Wednesday that he issued a more comprehensive policy and procedure concerning body cams following this incident.

“Generally, the department does not comment on personnel issues, however, generally speaking, if there was a violation of an department policy or procedure, that can be addresses in many different ways,” he said.

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