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Pols Call for Federal Monitor of Suffolk Police

James Burke Suffolk County Police
Disgraced former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke was arrested by federal agents Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015 and indicted on civil rights violations and conspiracy charges. (Long Island Press)

Republican Suffolk County lawmakers are calling for federal oversight of the Suffolk County Police Department after the recently retired chief of department was accused beating a handcuffed suspect and covering it up.

The county legislators also called for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to expand his search for a new police commissioner and questioned the wisdom of nominating Timothy Sini, a former federal prosecutor who most recently served as a deputy county executive, to replace Ed Webber, the retiring police commissioner.

“How can anyone today say that we don’t need outside assistance?” asked Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk County police detective who said he was “shocked at how bad it is, the culture of corruption.”

Trotta made the announcement Tuesday during a news conference in reaction to the news Friday that ex-chief James Burke was denied bail after pleading not guilty to violating a suspect’s civil rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Trotta was flanked by fellow Republican legislators, including Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the legislature’s GOP minority leader, who recently won re-election over Sini, who was since named deputy Suffolk police commissioner.

Both lawmakers said that Sini might be the right person to be the county’s next top cop, but now is not the time for politically connected promotions.

“Suffolk County is under a dark cloud of suspicion and this is unacceptable,” said McCaffrey. “Now, an inexperienced individual is being considered to the top post in the department. We need someone qualified. This is no time for on-the-job training.”

“Political connections should not determine how an investigation goes or who the police commissioner is,” agreed Trotta.

Justin Meyers, a Bellone spokesman, called the press conference “a political, partisan attack” and defended Sini.

“He has the local law enforcement knowledge,” Meyers said. “He brought in John Barry, the lead investigator on the Sheldon Silver case, to be the Deputy Chief of Department. He brought in Stu Cameron with his 30 years of law enforcement experience to be Chief of Department. He’s already reached out to the FBI on the Gilgo Beach murders. Tim hit the ground running.”

As for the call for federal oversight, Trotta noted that most cops are “moral, hardworking individuals,” but Burke’s arrest has tainted the department. He and McCaffrey cited comments made by U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler when Wexler denied bail for Burke on the grounds that he is a danger to the community. The judge had said: “The corruption of an entire department by this defendant is shocking.”

The call for a federal monitor came two years after the U.S. Department of Justice settled a probe into allegations that the police department turned a blind eye to hate crimes before one left an immigrant dead.

Nassau Police Officer Acquitted of Assaulting Westbury Driver

Kyle Howell
From left: Amy Marion, attorney for Kyle Howell, center, whose father is seated to his right.

A Nassau County police officer was acquitted Friday of assaulting a motorist during a traffic stop during which the driver was repeatedly punched on video in Westbury last year.

Judge Patricia Harrington, who found Vincent LoGiudice not guilty of assault, read her verdict to the packed courtroom, sparking protests from the family of the accuser, Kyle Howell.

“No justice, no peace” Howell’s family members and supporters chanted with their hands up as they filed out of the Mineola courthouse.

Judge Harrington said that the video of LoGiudice beating Howell did not tell the whole story and prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that LoGiudice used excessive force while he and his partner, Basil Gomez, were trying to arrest Howell.

Howell and LoGiudice declined to comment after the verdict.

As previously reported by the Press, Howell was pulled over by undercover officers LoGiudice and Gomez in April, 2014 for driving with a cracked windshield. Video captured by an outdoor surveillance camera showed LoGiudice repeatedly using his fists and knees to subdue Howell, who was arrested for assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, tampering with evidence, possession of cocaine and marijuana, speeding and driving with a broken windshield. Those charges were subsequently dropped.

After the verdict, Howell family attorney Amy Marion of Barket, Marion, Epstein & Kearon once again called for a federal investigation into LoGiudice’s conduct and the Howell beating, alleging that prosecutors mishandled the case on numerous issues including failing to charge LoGiudice’s partner and failing to prosecute the case as a hate crime. Marion is representing the Howell family in a pending lawsuit against the officer.

A spokesman for the Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said that “prosecutors presented the full breadth of the evidence and we accept the judge’s verdict” and declined to comment further.

Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James Carver told the Press that the verdict “proves that a silent video alone does not give you the true story of what happens. It’s part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. You can’t see the emotion. You can’t see that both officers were feeling that fear for their lives.”

After his indictment, LoGiudice was suspended without pay. If convicted, he would have faced up to seven years in prison.

Suffolk Pols OK Bill Encouraging Coordination on Big Projects

Suffolk County Legislature Building

After hours of contentious debate, Suffolk County Legislators approved a resolution Tuesday that encourages government entities to work together on large projects.

The aim of the resolution, which was approved 10-7, is to speed up the process for Projects of Regional Significance, such as the Ronkonkoma Hub, because they affect more than one town and require cooperation among multiple government agencies to be successful.

Opponents called it a power grab that would take zoning power away from local authorities and put it in the county’s hands.

“No one is in favor of this,” exclaimed Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue). “It’s another layer of government imposed on planning and zoning initiatives. It’s red tape. It’s unnecessary.”

The resolution encourages, but won’t require, town leaders to communicate and work together on Projects of Regional Significance. It requires membership in the Alliance in order to secure county funding for projects.

Several lawmakers wondered if it’s necessary to pass a law that suggests officials talk to one another, and if they even had the authority to do so.

Krupski also said the town supervisors that he spoke to about the proposal don’t support it. Legis. Lou D’Amaro (D-Huntington Station) shot back that if there are town supervisors against the resolution, it’s because they don’t understand it, they’re either misinformed, or uninformed.

The resolution’s perceived vagueness was debated at length. Lawmakers called on Counsel to the Legislature, George M. Nolan, repeatedly to help them interpret certain sections’ meaning.

Legis. William J. Lindsay, III (D-Holbrook) introduced the resolution in July to assist with the Suffolk County Master Plan. The Plan was adopted as a guide for future development and recognized that Projects of Regional Significance involve several levels of government entities.

Proponents urged the Legislature to pass the bill as soon as possible to accelerate a billion dollars’ worth of projects already approved but awaiting funds to start work. Proponents contended that investors would rather spend their money in communities that can get projects done quickly, and that’s why Long Island’s willing investors are decreasing.

The resolution’s other provision creates a list of prequalified consultants to perform work on the projects. This will eliminate the need for formal Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for such consultants.

The bill now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Final Port Ambrose Hearings Held in Long Beach

An artists' rendering of Port Ambrose, a deepwater liquified natural gas port proposed for off the coast of Long Island.

Lawmakers, environmentalists and citizens overwhelmingly opposed Port Ambrose, a proposed deepwater port to import liquid natural gas (LNG) off Long Island’s south shore, during two public hearings in Long Beach last week.

The most common grievance was that if approved, Port Ambrose would take up valuable Atlantic Ocean real estate 20 miles offshore, where the proposed Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project’s turbines would be located. The main theme on Monday night was it’s either wind, or liquid natural gas, but it can’t be both—with opinions differing over exactly how much the proposed port would encroach on the proposed wind farm area.

“There are clean, renewable ways of lowering our energy prices that Port Ambrose directly conflicts with,” New York State Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said. “We could have a wind farm in the very same area. Why we are moving backwards and not forwards befuddles me.”

The hearings—held Monday, Nov. 2 and on Election Day in Long Beach with two more that followed in New Jersey—were the last chance for the public to speak out in person, although written comments are being accepted through Nov. 30.

Proponents, such as former Democratic state Assemblyman-turned lobbyist Arthur Jerry Kremer, who leads the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (NYAREA), said that “Port Ambrose would take up only 4 percent of the proposed wind farm, so that’s not an issue.”

Patrick Robbins, co-director of Sane Energy Project, a pro-renewable energy group based in Manhattan, countered that Port Ambrose would actually infringe on up to 20 percent of the proposed wind farm location.

“The discrepancy is a matter of which distance is ultimately chosen for the exclusion zone for ships as part of the Port Ambrose project,” Robbins told the Press.

READ MORE: Long Island’s Offshore LNG Port Proposal’s Critics Fear Fracking Exports on Horizon

According to a March, 2015 letter by the New York Power Authority (NYPA), Liberty’s 4 percent estimate is based on a 500 meter buffer zone surrounding the port, but the U.S. Coast Guard recommended a zone of one nautical mile—or 1,852 meters. The NYPA letter noted that when adjusted for the one nautical mile recommendation, the total wind farm area lost to Port Ambrose would be “a minimum of 13 percent and could be as much 20 percent.”

Environmentalists of all stripes were also on hand to oppose Port Ambrose, including the Sierra Club, New York Public Interest Research Group, South Shore Audubon Society, Clean Ocean Action, Catskill, Mountainkeeper, Surfrider Foundation and others. Aside from the possibility of a spill, concern included the port attracting terrorists and the danger posed by hurricanes.

Those in favor of Port Ambrose were largely outnumbered but included the Recreational Fishing Alliance, NYAREA and a private citizen. Supporters say that the project is environmentally safe, will boost the economy, create jobs and lower energy prices.

On hand to listen to the were representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard Vessel and Facility Operating Standards Division, the Maritime Administration Office of Deepwater Ports, the state Department of State office of Planning and Development and Tetratech, Inc., environmental consultant to the Coast Guard.

The final decision to approve or deny Liberty’s application rests with the Maritime Administrator, T. Mitchell Hudson, Jr. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have until the end of the year to decide if they will veto the proposal.

A spokeswoman for Governor Cuomo said the Port Ambrose Project is “under review.” Cuomo sided with the environmentalists last year when he banned fracking in the state.

When Liberty proposed a very similar project off the Jersey Shore in 2010, Christie vetoed it. When asked if he will do the same this time around, a spokesman declined to comment but provided text from a speech that Christie gave to the Environmental Federation in 2011.

“I just don’t believe that there is a need, economically, that can even come close to balancing off against the environmental risk that we run by having these types of projects,” Christie said at the time. “So, my opposition to this will continue for as long as I’m governor because I just don’t believe it’s necessary and the threat to our environment is too significant to take that risk.”

FBI Returns Stolen Painting to North Shore Group

The Bark Washington, a painting by an unknown artist, is named for the whaling ship it depicts (FBI photo).

FBI agents recently recovered and returned one of four precious works of art that were stolen from the Oysterponds Historical Society on the North Fork more than 14 years ago, authorities said.

An individual who paid several hundred dollars for one of the paintings at an antiques shop shortly after it was stolen in 2001 later checked the FBI’s Stolen Art Database, discovered the work was stolen, and called federal agents, who returned it to the rightful owners on Sept. 29, authorities said.

“The FBI told us this past spring they believed the Bark Washington had been located and asked if we wanted it back,” recalled Amy Folk, collections manager for the Orient-based historical society. “Of course we want it back!”

The Bark Washington, an 1860 painting by an unknown artist, depicts an entire whale hunting scene, including the whales and other smaller ships, which is unusual given that marine art generally depicts just a single ship.

That painting and another, the Jennie French Potter, plus two whale busks were stolen while the historical society’s building was undergoing renovations. They were estimated to be worth $32,000 in 2001, according to FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser. When adjusted for inflation, their value today is $43,000.

Langmesser said that she could not disclose the identity of the person who turned in the stolen art. She noted neither the purchaser, nor the since-closed antiques shop in East Marion—not far from the historical society—would be charged with possessing stolen art. The FBI is treating the customer and the shop as “innocent third parties,” she said.

“When art theft occurs, it’s common for the thief to sell it right away to someone else who is going to sell it right away, creating distance between the thief and the piece,” said Langmesser, who described the theft as a crime of opportunity.

Both the returned painting and the one that has yet to be found are artistically unique and have ties to the community. They were both local ships captained by local families. The Jennie French Potter, a painting of a five-mast schooner by Samual F. Badger, is also unusual because most schooners have three masts.

Folk, the curator, hopes that the Jennie French Potter and the whale busks are also found. She described the whale busks as whalebones shaped like “giant tongue depressors with designs or writing on them” that were commonly used in corsets in the 19th century. Unfortunately, locating the stolen busks will be harder because there are no known photographs of them.

With no leads or suspects, the case was closed in 2002, Langmesser said. But with the recent discovery of at least one of the stolen paintings, the investigation is now continuing, although the thief has yet to be identified.

The FBI asks anyone with information on this case or any other stolen art works to call them 212-384-1000. Tipsters may remain anonymous.

Jennie French Potter
The FBI is still looking for the stolen Jennie French Potter.

Suffolk Pols OK Ban on Microbeads

A small spill of plastic pellets used to create microbeads.

Suffolk County lawmakers this week passed a bill that phases out the sale of personal care products containing microbeads—tiny plastic balls designed to exfoliate the skin but also negatively impact the environment.

County legislators Tuesday unanimously passed the measure, which phases out the sale of products containing microbeads over the next four years, giving manufacturers enough time to develop alternatives.

“Today’s vote puts Suffolk County on the right side of history and nature on this issue,” said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who introduced the bill with Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington).

New York State lawmakers have proposed similar legislation and two other counties statewide have passed likeminded laws. Another bill like it is being debated in Congress. And in June, Illinois became the first state to ban the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads by 2019.

Suffolk’s bill follows a similar timeline. If Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signs the bill into law, the phase-out would begin in January 2018 for personal care products not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and allow an additional year for ones that are.

The bill was proposed amid growing concern that microbeads, which are often less than 1 millimeter in size, have been found to soak up toxic chemicals on their way through sewage treatment plants. And because of their tiny size, they aren’t filtered by sewage plants—instead washing into waterways locally and nationwide, including the Long Island Sound.

“A clean face should not mean dirty water,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who backed the bill and described microbeads as “tiny toxic sponges.”

Microbeads, made of polyethylene and plastic, are found in everyday personal care products such as facial scrubs. Once they absorb toxic chemicals and wash into waterways, they’re eaten by fish, resulting in contamination up the food chain. Esposito said the toxic chemicals that attach to the microbeads have been linked to ailments ranging from birth defects to cancer.

Consumers can avoid purchasing products containing microbeads by downloading an app that scans product barcodes, such as Beat the Microbead.

‘Extremely Rare’ Humpback Whale Sightings In Long Island Sound [Video]

Humpback Whales Long Island Sound
Three humpback whales were recently spotted breaching in Long Island Sound! (Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

Boaters navigating the Long Island Sound last Saturday received the experience of a lifetime—three humpback whales going about their business, occasionally slapping their gigantic flukes on the serene waves or jumping completely out of the water to onlookers’ delight.

Passengers on a commercial fishing trip-turned-whale watch in the Sound near Huntington were treated to a show, as one of the humpbacks, an endangered species known for its distinctive white pectoral fins, breached the water several times. Captain James Schneider of James Joseph Fishing witnessed the two adults and baby.

“All three actually swam right under my boat,” he says. “I could see them on the fishing monitor.”

Humpbacks are a rather acrobatic species. Although it seems they breach, or throw two-thirds or more of their bodies out of the water, to be photogenic, the real reason is most likely communication, say experts.

When the whales breach or slap their flukes or flippers on the water, “the sound can be heard over long distances underwater,” explains Jennifer Goebel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

Male humpbacks are also known for their comprehensive, enigmatic songs.

Humpbacks are no stranger to New York’s waters, but “we generally do not get reports of sightings in Long Island Sound,” explains Rachel Bosworth of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. Saturday’s extraordinary viewings came on the heels of a previous sighting near Milford, Conn. in August and another earlier this month near Port Washington.

The Sound’s food supply has been attracting unusual marine life, such as the trio of beluga whales the Press first noted back in May. Goebel called the beluga sighting an “extremely rare occurrence.” The food increase in the Sound might also explain dolphins that Captain Schneider has been seeing weekly and a sea turtle he witnessed three days ago.

The enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which protect animals and their habitats, is another reason such an unusual array of sea creatures has been visiting the Sound.

“The protections afforded to humpbacks under these acts has contributed to their recovery, as has nearly 50 years of international prohibitions on commercial whaling,” explains Goebel. This led to NOAA’s Fisheries Service proposal to remove the humpback from the endangered species list, a victory for conservationists.

Authorities advise to keep at least 150 feet away from whales in the wild—sage advice, given that the humpback averages 25 to 40 tons and up to 60 feet.

Garden City Park ‘Hostage’ Report Probed

Nassau County police responded to a report of a possible hostage situation involving a family in a Garden City Park home but found the residents inside safe on Tuesday morning, authorities said.

Officers responded to the house on First Place residence, a short street with only three residential homes, after receiving a 911 call reporting a hostage situation at 12:30 p.m., police said.

Shortly after police arrived, a man, woman and young child came out unharmed, said Det. Vincent Garcia, a police spokesman.

Officers from the Third Precinct, Bureau of Special Operations Unit and Emergency Service Unit searched the home and found no weapons.

Denton Avenue between Jericho Turnpike and Belmont Avenue was closed to traffic for more than two hours while investigators were on the scene. No one was hurt and there is no threat to the public.

Authorities are investigating the origin of the call, which did not come from the home.

Runners, Diocese & Suffolk County Ready For Inaugural Marathon

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone analyzes the Suffolk County Marathon's route. (Photo: Suffolk County Executive's Office)

Despite a small snag at its starting line, the inaugural Suffolk County Marathon will be off and running without a hitch this Sunday.

The 26.2 mile-long race, which also includes a half marathon, was first announced last October and preparations for the event, including security measures and road closures, have been ongoing ever since.

Among the issues that had arisen recently were how road closures would impact parishioners attempting to attend Sunday mass at various churches along Suffolk’s South Shore.

Anticipating that road closures and parking rules would affect parishioners’ ability to attend Sunday mass, Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Center reached out to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office this summer expressing his concerns. On Tuesday, the Diocese released a public statement stating that the road closures would infringe on churchgoers’ rights by preventing hundreds from reaching several Catholic churches: the Church of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville, the Parish of Our Lady of the Snow in Blue Point, and the Parish of St. Francis de Sales in Patchogue.

Read “Long Island Marathon: A Headache for Local Residents”

Bellone responded to Murphy in a letter on Aug. 27, but Murphy never received it, a county spokeswoman said. The county leader and Long Island’s chief Catholic Bishop spoke over the phone Wednesday to clear up any remaining issues, officials said. Afterward, the pair released a joint statement noting that the Diocese would join Suffolk’s after-action review of the marathon “to make sure that any issues that may arise on race day are addressed for future events.”

“Bishop Murphy did not receive Mr. Bellone’s Aug. 27 letter addressing his concerns–that’s why it was so important that they spoke two days ago,” Vanessa Baird-Streeter, Bellone’s spokeswoman, told the Press.

However, St. Lawrence had already revisited its entire weekend mass schedule so parishioners could avoid traffic delays. A Diocese spokesman did not return a call for comment.

Both the marathon and half-marathon will kick off at 8 a.m. in Heckscher State Park and will take the 3,200 expected runners along Montauk Highway through the scenic towns and beautiful waterfronts of Oakdale, Sayville, Bayport, Blue Point and Patchogue before ending at Heckscher.

Festivities will include a Taste of Long Island Festival featuring local food, wine and music, beginning at 9 a.m. in the park.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a marathon participant, said net proceeds will be used to enhance veterans’ services within the county. The marathon’s website declares that Suffolk has the highest population of veterans in the state. Several prominent local businesses have signed on as sponsors for the cause, including WBAB 102.3, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, and Blue Point Brewing Company. North Shore Long Island Jewish Health Systems is sponsoring the event.

Despite the expected road closures, local businesses have also thrown their support behind the first-ever Suffolk County Marathon.

“Overall, the community response has been very positive, and everyone has been very patient” while the logistics of hosting a marathon are worked out, said David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce. Because most businesses are closed on Sundays, the chamber has not had any complaints about parking regulations or road closures, Kennedy said.

Additionally, local businesses will get a lot of exposure through the Taste of Long Island Festival as well as the booths set up along the routes, Kennedy noted.

Long Islanders registered for the races are also looking forward to the inaugural event.

Veteran marathoner, Heather Ackerly of Selden, will turn 39 Sunday. She has already dubbed Sunday’s race her “Birthday Half Marathon.”

Ackerly said she hopes to beat her personal record of 1:49 in the half.

“It depends on the weather,” she told the Press. “If it’s a million degrees, there’s no way!”

With 11 half marathons and six full marathons under her belt, Sunday’s race is her training for the Philadelphia Marathon in November. Still, the Suffolk race is special to Ackerly.

“All my friends are running on Sunday too, and we are all thrilled that the proceeds will benefit our veterans,” she explained.

As with any marathon event, road closures are necessary. The county executive’s office has prepared a list of 10 intersections that will allow the public to cross Montauk Highway, in effect from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Suffolk County Police Department advised the public to use common sense on race day. The department, which has been working on security for the event since it was conceived, said all possessions are subject to inspection.

ROAD CLOSURES

Suffolk County Marathon Road Closures