Rashed Mian

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Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

Heroin Takes Center Stage with Arrests and Federal Programs to Combat Scourge

Heroin on Long Island

Authorities on Long Island last week announced large scale heroin busts just as elected officials vowed to combat the scourge of opioid abuse by pouring billions of federal funds into various drug programs.

In Nassau County, District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office indicted 14 alleged members of a heroin ring that operated in Nassau, Queens and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn-based crew allegedly sold upwards of 23,000 doses of heroin each week, which authorities conservatively estimated to be worth $170,000.

The alleged ring’s downfall came after authorities tracked a dealer to a large-scale drug network distributing thousands of doses of the drug each week, authorities said.

Of the 14 indicted, a dozen have been arraigned, one is in custody, and another has yet to be arrested, said Singas.

Four of the alleged members of the drug ring face up to 25 years in life in prison. One of the alleged leaders of the group, Leigh Jackson, is accused of selling packaged heroin stamped “Taster’s Choice” linked to several overdoses, including one that caused the death of a 23-year-old woman from Garden City Park, Singas said.

Authorities executed several search warrants that resulted in the seizure of two firearms, ammunition, $12,000 in cash, and a large amount of heroin, Singas said.

Similar items were discovered in a house in Coram earlier last week, according to Suffolk County police. While executing a search warrant at the residence, police found 349 grams of heroin, more than $83,000, an assault rifle and two handguns, police said. The 44-year-old man who lives at the house, Keith Daves, was arrested and charged on drug and weapons charges.

Announcing the arrest, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said: “If you are selling drugs in Suffolk County, we will be coming for you.”

Back in Nassau, County Executive Ed Mangano reportedly intends to sue drug manufacturers to pay back county taxpayers for the cost of fighting the opioid epidemic. Officials in Suffolk County announced a similar lawsuit last summer.

Federal officials have also made combating the drug epidemic a priority. Included in this year’s federal budget is $4 billion for substance abuse and mental health services.

“The opioid and heroin crisis on Long Island and across New York is a symptom of a national emergency that’s taken the lives of far too many Americans,” said U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “This significant federal investment will put words into action and combat this national crisis by supporting prevention, interdiction, treatment and recovery programs and help us turn the tide against this tragic scourge.”

The budget allocates $160 million to help pay for enforcement and treatment programs and more than $100 million for prevention.

LIU-Post Unveils Start-Up Institute

LIU-Post on Friday unveiled the first phase of an aggressive strategy to bring innovative minds, possibly the next Jobs or Zuckerberg, to its campus.

While technology giant Apple was conceived out of a California garage and Facebook in a Harvard dorm, the Brookville university is following in the direction of other universities that are hoping to foster innovation right on campus.

The university’s mission is to attract creative minds to its T. Denny Sanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, named after the billionaire philanthropist who contributed a $5 million grant to help fund the project. The goal is to put young minds, educators, and successful leaders of industry together under one roof to spearhead innovation.

LIU President Dr. Kimberly R. Cline said at the institute’s official ribbon cutting Friday that the university intends to attract entrepreneurs from around the world and cultivate young people to become leaders in their own industry.

“We are going to push you to be the very best,” Cline said.

Sanford’s generous grant helped the university renovate its historic Bush-Brown Hall. Sanford, who was in attendance Friday, acknowledged that “start-ups are tough” but recalled how his own bank steadily grew over two decades.

He said the key to success is to surround yourself with experienced people.

“At the end of the day, you need someone who has been there, done that,” said Sanford, owner of South Dakota-based First Premier Bank.

That message is at the core of the institute, officials said.

“It not only seeks to expand entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the whole region, it also is about bringing young people in and getting them started with entrepreneurship early on,” Cline told the Press.

Cline said the plan is to have 20 students each year involved in the program. They’ll be awarded scholarships, have access to faculty experts and the ability to take advantage of other campus-based institutes to help them along their path.

Dr. Robert M. Valli, dean of LIU-Post’s College of Management, noted the growth of incubators regionally and across the country. The advantage LIU-Post has, he said, is its access to investors, being in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America, and an ambitious student body.

“We want to reach out to nascent companies that are starting in New York or outside of New York, or even outside of the country,” Valli said, “and bring them here and help them launch into industry.”

Providing a base for both startups to work at the institute and students with entrepreneurial minds to learn could turn LIU-Post into a “nexus” for innovation, he said.

The institute has already attracted several start-ups, including EParel, a tech company that tries to help the hotel industry be more efficient, and Bayside Brewery, which uses a technology to speed up fermentation.

Launching the institute is just the beginning for the university. The second phase of the project includes adding a 12,000 square-foot extension to the existing building that will serve as the incubator space. Construction is expected to begin in the fall.

State Sues Companies for Toxic Dumping Scandal in Brentwood

New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman
New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Thursday announced a federal lawsuit against the mastermind behind the toxic dumping scandal at a park in Brentwood and a group of contractors, brokers, and haulers who allegedly contributed to the contamination.

Standing outside Roberto Clemente Park, Schneiderman said he was taking to court those responsible for the dumping scandal in order to recoup money for the two-plus years the park has been closed and for future restoration of community parks in the hamlet.

“We believe the companies and individuals named in our suit are responsible for the dumping of hazardous substances into the heart of Brentwood and causing a much-beloved park to be closed off to the community for years,” Schneiderman said. “Those responsible for closing Roberto Clemente Park must repay their debt to the Brentwood community.”

The lawsuit was filed in Central Islip federal court and names the since-convicted mastermind of the illegal dumping scandal, Thomas Datre Jr., and his co-defendant in the case, Christopher Gabe, along with nearly three-dozen companies. Datre and Gabe were sentenced last week to one year and 30 days in jail, respectively, following guilty pleas last year.

Schneiderman is also suing various contractors who he alleges arranged for the disposal of soil and contamination construction and demolition debris, companies involved in brokering the removal and dumping of the debris, and haulers who dumped the waste at Roberto Clemente Park, which is named after the famed baseball player and humanitarian.

The park has been closed since May 2014. Authorities said Datre Jr. and others were responsible for contaminating the park with toxic debris. Hazardous material was also illegally disposed at a veteran’s complex in Islandia, Deer Park wetlands and a property in Central Islip. In total, six people were arrested, including former Islip Town Parks Commissioner Joseph J. Montuori Jr., who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and endangering the health, safety or environment, but won’t serve any time in jail.

The state’s suit claims those responsible are liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability ACT (CERCLA), a federal statute, along with state laws stemming from the park’s closing.

Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) issued a statement calling the illegal waste removal an “environmental offense to a horrifying degree.”

“Companies thought they could get away with dumping toxic garbage in a diverse community because it would be the path of least resistance,” Ramos said. “But we were able to collectively shine a light on their harmful activity that not only forced an important community landmark to close, but put our children’s health at risk in the process.”

Subsequent tests of the park revealed the existence of various toxic chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals and asbestos.

In addition to Schneiderman’s lawsuit, the Town of Islip has sought civil enforcement for funds related to the cost of rehabilitating the park.

Can a Cannabis-Based Pill Help Treat Concussions?

cannabis concussions
April 20, known as '420' among marijuana enthusiasts, is a day of celebration and mass smoking of the psychoactive plant, still illegal in New York State except for those with a medical marijuana prescription.

A former investment adviser from Roslyn Heights is taking his talents to South Beach.

Jonathan Gilbert, CEO of Scythian Biosciences Inc., a biotech firm, has secured $16 million in funding for a promising trial at the University of Miami considering the potential impact of a cannabis-based compound to treat concussions and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The cannabinoid compound at the center of the trials, cannabidiol (CBD), is believed to contain neuroprotective properties that could, in theory, reduce inflammation in the brain caused by head trauma. Adding to the intrigue, the drug would not contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which creates the psychoactive effect in the brain when using marijuana.

Researchers at the University of Miami hope the trial could produce a first-of-its-kind pharmaceutical answer to concussions, which has recently been the focus of millions of dollars in research, largely in response to the impact concussions have had on current and former NFL players.

For Gilbert, a career investment adviser who worked for a Connecticut-based hedge fund, it’s incredibly exciting transitioning to biotech, focusing his efforts on a potentially game-changing drug, something that has thus far remained elusive to concussion patients.

“I can’t sleep at night thinking about what I can be accomplishing here,” he told the Press. “What an amazing accomplishment to create something that could be effective for everyone on Earth.”

Gilbert founded Scythian Biosciences Inc. three years ago, following a Tourette Syndrome support group session in which teenagers indicated they had used marijuana to “self medicate.” Gilbert and his wife have three kids, the youngest of whom suffers from the neurological disorder.

The conversation with the teens got Gilbert thinking: how could marijuana benefit not only his son, but people inflicted with various ailments, including concussion?

Gilbert knew his extensive list of contacts and ability to raise money and attract talent would make up for whatever experience he lacked in the pharmaceutical industry. In the latter years of his investment career, he noticed an uptick in medical marijuana businesses seeking funding, though most pitches were underwhelming. Still keen on the idea of marijuana-based treatment, he made a decision to go his own route.

Initially Gilbert’s goal was to enter the industry in Canada, whose prime minister, Justin Trudeau, recently introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide. The prospect of similar legislation being proposed by the Trump administration appears far-fetched.

Gilbert went ahead and purchased a facility in Canada with the idea of growing and selling medical marijuana. But instead of joining the growing medical marijuana industry, Gilbert, with his own son in mind, gambled on an entry into the pharmaceutical industry.

Mindful of the surprisingly minimal treatment options for concussions, Gilbert got the sense that it was a “wide open space” with the potential of becoming a billion-dollar industry.

“I’m learning as I go,” he said.

Even so, Gilbert already sounds experienced.

“Our therapy, which involves the use of two drugs, targets two different brain receptors which are involved in suppressing this immune response and the associated inflammation,” he explained.

Scythian Biosciences Inc now has offices in Canada and the United States—including one at the University of Miami. The company has applied for a patent for its treatment and the University of Miami is in the pre-trial phase of the five-year study.

Heading the university’s research is Dr. Gillian Hotz, research professor of neurological surgery and director of the concussion program at University of Miami Health System Sports Medicine.

When the university announced the study, Hotz acknowledged the previous work her team had done to develop concussion protocols and better educate high school, collegiate and professional athletes.

“One thing has eluded us—a clinically proven medication to treat concussion,’ she said. “Whether or not this study leads to a pill that could treat concussion, this type of research will pave the way for UM and other researchers to better manage concussion. It’s a privilege to help lead this journey.”

Researchers are currently examining TBI in rodents before testing the compound in the form of a pill on humans. Clues to as to whether the treatment could be the game-changer Gilbert is hoping it is won’t come until the third phase, which is expected to take three years.

The University of Miami trial comes as medical professionals have earnestly been scrutinizing new ways to treat concussed patients. The US government has funded studies into hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which uses oxygen to reduce swelling and increase blood flow. At the University of Buffalo, researchers are testing how recently concussed athletes react to light aerobics, which would undermine years of conventional thinking that long periods of rest is best for a concussed brain.

Gilbert welcomes the deluge of research. Given how pervasive concussions have become, he recognizes the need for changes in how concussions are treated—even if it means increased competition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, upwards of 3.6 million people suffer a TBI each year. Additionally, an analysis by Blue Cross Blue Shield found that concussions increased by more than 40 percent in the past five years.

Gilbert is hardly alone in advocating for cannabis treatment to tackle America’s concussion problem. Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon in 2014 penned a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging the league to pursue marijuana treatment.

“Already, many doctors and researchers believe that marijuana has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data,” Grinspoon wrote. “But unfortunately, the extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment, and despite the great promise many now see in cannabinopathic medicine, it’s hard to imagine who else has both the motive and the means to provide such funding.”

It appears Gilbert is both motivated and has found the financial backing for such an effort. And while he waits for the study to take shape, he said he’ll continue to raise money for his company, and perhaps even find a way to help more people like his son.

Knife-wielding Suspect Wanted for 18 Robberies Nabbed

Shane Cashmore
Shane Cashmore was arrested for 18 robberies on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

 

A drug addict believed to be responsible for a spate of 18 knife-point robberies on Long Island over the past three months was arrested immediately after robbing another store in Huntington Station on Monday night, police said.

Shane Cashmore, 30, who is homeless but has connections to Lake Ronkonkoma, will be arraigned in both Nassau and Suffolk counties on 18 counts of first-degree robbery, officials said. While being escorted out of the 2nd Precinct in Huntington Tuesday morning, Cashmore told reporters that he suffered from heroin addiction.

“We have no doubt that Mr. Cashmore is responsible for these 18 robberies and we are glad to bring this spree to an end,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini during a joint press conference with acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.

Two other suspects were also arrested Monday night—Juliana Panteleone, 31, and Paul Drab, 26, both of Levittown—but authorities did not elaborate on their roles in the robberies. They were charged only for the Monday night robbery in Huntington Station in which they were described as getaway drivers.

At the time of their arrest, Panteleone was preparing to inject herself with heroin, authorities said. Sini noted that there was evidence that suspects were suffering from substance abuse and “likely committing robberies to fuel their addiction.” The investigation is continuing.

Cashmore is accused of robbing 18 businesses across the Island from Feb. 13 through May 1. Stores he allegedly hit included Carvel, Subway, Baskin Robin, TCBY, Dunkin’ Donuts, and The Barn, among others, police said.

“Over these several months and weeks, small business owners and workers at these small businesses have been on edge, but today they can rest a little more peacefully,” said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

The big break in the case came in mid-April when investigators learned that Cashmore had been driving a rare Hyundai model called the Tiburon, which was only in production between 1999 and 2008.

Police began looking into each of the 200 Tiburon’s registered in New York City and Long Island and were briefing individual officer’s when one came forward with information about an arrest he made in March that fit the description of the car, a 2006 version, in which Drab was driving. Drab was charged with possession of a controlled substance for that incident.

The car, which was registered by Panteleone, was placed under around-the-clock surveillance, and authorities followed the car’s every movement: when the suspects took cans to scrap, to New York City, and to Panteleone’s place of work.

Investigators followed that car Monday night to Oyster Bay, but the suspects became spooked by officers in the vicinity and instead drove to Huntington Station. After Cashmore allegedly committed his 18th robbery, he was immediately placed under arrest, police said.

Krumpter said they were unable to prevent Sunday’s robbery in Lake Ronkonkoma because the car wasn’t used.

Sini and Krumpter said their respective department’s willingness to work in tandem created an environment that contributed to Monday night’s arrests.

The collaborative efforts of Nassau’s Robbery Squad and Suffolk’s Pattern Crime Unit is a “model” of how such investigations should work.

In the first two cases attributed to the suspect, he allegedly robbed a Carvel in South Farmingdale 20 minutes after trying to rob a Dunkin’ Donuts five miles away in Seaford, police have said.

Long Island Craft Beer Week 2017 Dates Announced

In some households and bars across Long Island, every day feels like Long Island Craft Beer Week. But the official nine-day celebration of one of the Island’s most appreciated industries is quickly approaching, and, as is the case in previous years, there’s likely going to be new favorites greasing the ever-evolving taste buds of local beer enthusiasts.

The much-anticipated Long Island Craft Beer Week 2017 edition kicks off May 12 and runs through May 21—just in time to solidify your summer beer list.

LICBW comes as LI’s craft beer scene continues to grow. While new microbreweries seek to get in on the action, others like famed Blue Point Brewing. Co. is expanding operations at the shuttered Briarcliffe College campus in Patchogue. Long Island now boasts more than 30 craft breweries.

LICBW is unique in that it’s a collaborative movement created and promoted by local breweries that prefer to showcase their collective talents to raise awareness about drinking local. Basically the thinking goes like this: Why go at it alone when you have the support of your friends and competitors? We can drink to that.

This year’s Long Island Craft Beer Week will feature about 50 events across Nassau and Suffolk counties. In the coming days, organizers will release the list of LICBW events and location of where fans can pick up a free Long Island Craft Beer Week 2017 pint glass. (Don’t worry, we’ll update as news comes our way.)

Historically, LICBW brings craft beer bars, breweries, and restaurants together to celebrate handcrafted brews. The good news is that no matter your beer preference, or whether you unabashedly embrace the moniker of “beer snob,” there’s an expertly created beer for everyone.


Sign up for our free Ultimate Guide To Craft Breweries on Long Island e-book

The Ultimate Guide to Craft Breweries on Long Island

Long Island has been undergoing a craft beer revolution and is now home to more than 30 craft breweries. Here’s the ultimate guide to Long Island’s craft brew explosion!

Thousands Attend Bethpage Funeral for Fallen FDNY Firefighter William Tolley

FDNY
The funeral procession for fallen FDNY firefighter William Tolley marches through Bethpage on Thursday, Apr. 27, 2016 (Photo by Robert Stridiron/QNS)

Thousands of firefighters lined the streets of Bethpage on a misty Thursday morning to pay tribute to FDNY veteran William Tolley, who plunged to his death last week battling a fire in Queens.

Fellow firefighters had flooded Tolley’s hometown for a series of memorial services this week and their numbers grew exponentially Thursday as more than 10,000 people were expected to attend the funeral service. Outside the church, red ribbons abutted utility poles and American flags hung high.

The steady mist eventually gave way to cloudy skies, punctuating the occasion as a somber mood enveloped the area around St. Martin of Tours church. With police enforcing morning road closures, the long stretch running from Hicksville Road to Bethpage State Parkway was eerily quiet until mourners trickled in for the ceremony.

“His life was so rich, so rich in fact, that it makes the loss even more raw and painful,” New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio told mourners. “But let’s take stock and remember a rich life and a full life…a life lived the way we all should live.”

Tolley, 42, and about 100 other firefighters were battling a blaze at a five-story building in Ridgewood, Queens last Thursday when he fell to his death. The circumstances around his fatal fall are currently under investigation.

The funeral marked a tragic end to a life of a man whose love for his family, his wife Marie and 8-year-old daughter Bella, was endless.

“Bella was his first and foremost priority, the apple of his eye,” Tolley’s colleague Jarrett Kotarski said while also recalling Tolley playing drums in the heavy metal band Internal Bleeding. “Billy lived his life to the fullest, he chased down all his dreams and caught them.”

Leading the procession was Tolley’s Ladder Company 135, including one in black and purple bunting carrying his American flag-draped casket. Tolley’s widow and daughter followed the casket into the church as hymns blared.

The words “In Loving Memory of William N. Tolley” word etched into the truck.

“His death leaves so much pain, confusion and crying,” said Father Patrick Woods, recalling the moment of devastating grief when Tolley’s daughter, Bella, learned of her father’s death.

“Mommy, why are you gone all day, what happened?” she asked.

“Marie a loving mother carrying her own crushing grief, gently tells Bella that Billy has gone home to God,” he recalled.

“Mommy,” Bella responded, “daddy is too young to die.”

And then she realized.

“I have no daddy.”

Consoling Bella, Marie reminded her that Tolley loved helping people.

“That’s what firemen do,” she said.

William Tolley
William Tolley

What Does DOJ Review of Police Settlements Mean for SCPD Reforms?

DOJ review
A vigil set up for Marcelo Lucero at the site of his slaying. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

In the wake of the high-profile slaying of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in November 2008 and accusations of discriminatory treatment of Hispanics, the beleaguered Suffolk County Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement intended to foster much-needed policy changes within the department.

Under the agreement, which the Suffolk County Legislature approved, federal monitoring of the agency potentially would’ve ceased after three years from its effective date, Jan. 13, 2014, had the department demonstrated improvements across the board. Three years later, however, the department remains tethered to the settlement despite it making “substantial progress” in implementing some of its requirements, according to the DOJ’s most recent assessment report, published on Jan. 19.

Suffolk police achieved “substantial compliance” in the area of hate crimes and hate incidents training—subjects garnering much scrutiny before and after the Lucero murder.

“In other areas,” the report stated, “considerable work remains.”

One such area DOJ inspectors identified for improvement is the way in which the department collects traffic stop data. In its latest report, monitors noted that Suffolk police “omits critical variables that are necessary for meaningful analysis of bias-free policing,” including the reasons for initiating a traffic stop.

Continued oversight of the department comes amid a March 21 memorandum issued by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to department heads and U.S. Attorneys across the country calling for a review of “compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation.”

Court-mandated consent decrees compel offending agencies to comply with federal directives. Out of court agreements, such as that issued in Suffolk County, are essentially contracts between two parties. Nationwide, there are currently 14 consent decrees and four out-of-court settlements aimed at reforming troubled police departments. Perhaps the most notable Obama-era consent decree involves the Ferguson Police Department, which became ground zero for large anti-police brutality demonstrations following the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“All consent decrees currently in place would be subject to review” following Sessions’ memo, a DOJ official told the Press. Whether “review” means retreat from Obama administration policies remains unknown, though if Baltimore is any example—the DOJ under President Trump recently sought a delay in a consent decree stalling rehabilitation there—the latter is likely. Whether the review extends to the out-of-court settlement agreement between the DOJ and SCPD is also unclear.

Without federal compulsion to implement the aforementioned improvements, it’d be up to Suffolk County Police Department brass to continue the progress initiated by the DOJ—directives imposed for a reason.

“These aren’t taken on lightly,” explained John DeCarlo, assistant chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven. “The DOJ doesn’t come in and say ‘Hey, we want to do a consent decree.’ They’re not picking on anyone.

“They’re there because there are substantial problems,” he continued. “Sometimes it’s not within the capability of the local political system to make the changes needed.”

Aside from the legal settlement, Suffolk police is under a long-standing consent decree related to its hiring practices, the same with neighboring Nassau County police.

A Justice Department spokesman did not address the 2014 agreement specifically, but in a statement said the memo was issued at a time of “new leadership in the Department actively developing strategies to support the thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country that seek to prevent crime and protect the public.”

“The Department is working to ensure that those initiatives effectively dovetail with robust enforcement of federal laws designed to preserve and protect civil rights,” the statement added. “While this memo includes the review of any pending consent decrees, the Attorney General also recognizes the Department’s important role helping communities and police departments achieve these goals.”

Over the course of the agreement, SCPD welcomed a new commissioner, Tim Sini, who vowed to reform the agency after its former chief of department, James Burke, shamed the department. The disgraced ex-chief pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy charges stemming from a precinct beating of a shackled burglary suspect. The suspect, Christopher Loeb, stole a duffel bag from Burke’s SUV containing sex toys, porn, a gun, ammunition and other items. According to federal investigators, Burke, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison, orchestrated a coverup and attempted, but ultimately failed, to stymie the FBI’s investigation.

As for Sini, the tall task of turning around a department embarrassed by scandal fell squarely on his shoulders. But at the same time, Sini had to mend the relationship with the FBI after Burke’s puzzling decision in 2012 to unceremoniously remove three detectives from the FBI’s Joint Long Island Gang Task Force, despite its resounding successes tackling violent local street gangs. The SCPD has since rejoined the collaborative unit, and Sini stood alongside DOJ officials and his local and state counterparts at a press conference in March announcing the arrest of 13 members of the MS-13 gang for seven murders and racketeering, among other alleged crimes.

More relevant to the federal government’s scrutiny of the department was the arrest of Suffolk police Sgt. Scott Greene for stealing money from mostly Hispanic drivers. Greene’s arrest was announced 18 days after the settlement went into effect. Greene was eventually convicted of petty larceny, official misconduct and grand larceny, but acquitted on the most serious hate crimes charges.

“I am particularly outraged by the conduct of this officer who was sworn to protect the community but instead targeted individuals who he perceived to be vulnerable,” former SCPD Commissioner Ed Webber said at the time.

‘EPIDEMIC OF HATE CRIMES’

This was all happening amid greater scrutiny of local law enforcement agencies nationwide under the Obama administration.

From the time he came into office, former President Obama’s DOJ sued 14 police departments and agreed to four out-of-court agreements with four agencies, including Suffolk police, according to The New York Times. As evidenced by Sessions’ memo, the Trump administration is not expected to pursue oversight of local police departments as vigorously as his predecessor.

In fact, they appear to be doing the opposite. Without explicitly stating in the memorandum his intention to roll back, or perhaps even squash such reforms, Sessions declared:

“The Federal government alone can not successfully address rising crime rates, secure public safety, protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public, or implement the best practices of policing. These are, first and foremost, tasks for state, local, and tribal law enforcement.”

Among a list of ways to “effectively promote a peaceful and lawful society society, where the civil rights of all persons are valued and protected” ensure successful policing, Sessions’ memorandum states: “Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.

“The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe,” it continues.

Sini, a former federal prosecutor who has been commissioner for 14 months, inherited a department plagued by the scandal-scarred Burke and accusations of discriminatory policing tracing back years.

In November 2008, Latino Justice, an immigrant advocacy group, wrote a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department detailing allegations of discriminatory policing in Suffolk. The letter was deeply critical of Suffolk County’s treatment of Latinos, going as far as declaring “an epidemic of hate crimes against Latinos had erupted in Suffolk County.”

The DOJ first announced an investigation in 2009 after predatory teenagers viciously killed 37-year-old immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, which brought Suffolk County into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The Lucero slaying was predated by two similarly vicious attacks: the kidnapping and beating of two Latino men in Farmingville by white men posing as contractors in 2000, and the 2004 burning of a Latino family’s home. A climate of fear had enveloped the Hispanic community, advocates said, with many afraid to report crimes to the police because of their questionable immigration status or distrust of law enforcement.

A Sept. 13, 2011, letter from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division addressed to former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy noted that it was investigating, among other allegations, that “SCPD engages in discriminatory policing, that its approach to the Latino community discourages Latino victims from filing complaints and cooperating with the police, and that the Department fails to investigate crimes and hate-crime incidents involving Latinos.”

Two years later, the DOJ and Suffolk police agreed to the current settlement, which was negotiated out of court and included 29 reforms currently guiding changes within the department. The areas for improvement include bias-free policing, hate crimes and hate incidents, training, and language assistance.

Even with allegations swirling against Greene for targeting Hispanics and the circus spawned by Burke’s cantankerous reign, the police department has managed to come into varying degrees of compliance since the DOJ stepped in.

During a hearing before the Suffolk County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee last week, Sini told lawmakers that the department was in “compliance” with 28 of 29 of the recommendations. In reality, the police department has only achieved “partial compliance” with regards to 21 of the DOJ provisions, compared with seven such provisions in which monitors found the department to be in “substantial compliance.”

According to the agreement, the DOJ assessment won’t be over until the county “has maintained substantial compliance with all provisions” for the previous 12 months. Sini indicated that he’s prepared to open discussions with the DOJ about “how to move forward.”

Sini’s assessment aside, the DOJ’s January report suggested its mandate that SCPD achieve full compliance remained unchanged. The report was published one day before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Sessions wasn’t confirmed as Attorney General until Feb. 8.

SCPD MONITORING MOVES FORWARD

“Over the coming year, we will focus our attention on the Department’s efforts in the substantive areas of the Agreement with which the Department remains in partial compliance,” the DOJ said in the Jan. 19 assessment, adding that it will release public reports on its observations in both the spring and fall of 2017. According to a law enforcement source close to the matter, members of the DOJ toured SCPD headquarters in Yaphank this month and recently held a meeting with members of the community—standard procedures for a compliance evaluation.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District declined to comment on Sini’s statements to the Pubic Safety Committee. A spokesman for Suffolk police did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Following a request for response from the Press regarding inoperable links to the DOJ settlement on SCPD’s website, the hyperlinks were activated, though no explanation was provided.

A former chief of the Branford Police Department in Connecticut, New Haven University’s DeCarlo has studied settlement agreements, and said it can take years for a department to come under full compliance. For example, the Detroit Police Department was under federal monitoring for 13 years before its consent decree expired last year. In the case of East Haven Police Department in Connecticut, federal monitors pulled out after the department met compliance standards after three years, explained DeCarlo.

“They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to have 100-percent compliance, but they want to have movement,” DeCarlo told the Press, speaking broadly about settlement agreements. “The feds aren’t being unreasonable—and it’s all about policy, about changing your policy and changing the patterns and practices of what you’re doing. If you’re doing stuff that you’re not supposed to be doing or is not in the best interest of the community, they want you to change it.”

DeCarlo reviewed the DOJ’s most recent assessment of the SCPD and said the recommendations do not appear to be unfair.

“If the community is not happy with the cops, and the bias is perceived, then that’s bias,” DeCarlo said. “Whether you’re intending to do it or not, if you do not appear legitimate as a police department in the eyes of the community that you’re there to serve, then you’re biased.”

DeCarlo noted that a successful transition from police department under scrutiny to one making serious reforms depends on not only the willingness of the agency to achieve its goals, but also backing from local officials. He said departments may perceive federal monitoring in a negative light at first, but taken retrospectively, settlement agreements could prove beneficial to the department—and the community it serves.

“Change is hard, and police departments, like all pieces of government, are bureaucracies,” he said.

Whether the DOJ under Sessions will unilaterally back out of the agreement remains to be seen. But if their intention is to give SCPD its independence, there may not be any obstacles to prevent them from doing so, said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“If the DOJ was what prompted it, and they just walk away from it, that’s probably just the end of it,” said Dunn, speaking broadly about out-of-court agreements, as is the case in Suffolk.

Joselo Lucero, Marcelo’s younger brother, said that a premature exit from the settlement agreement would be unwise considering increased anxiety among immigrants with fear of deportations under the new presidential administration.

Lucero meets with both Suffolk police and the DOJ periodically. Among the foremost issues he discusses with the DOJ is language access, which the DOJ’s Jan. 19 report graded as in “partial compliance” and requiring further improvements.

“I think it should continue,” Lucero, outreach coordinator at the nonprofit Hagedorn Foundation, told the Press. “I cannot tell you for how long, but until the community feels safe and feels comfortable to talk to the police…the fear to be arrested by immigration is a big issue right now.”

In his conversations with Sini, Lucero was told that SCPD doesn’t recognize Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests and only complies when a warrant for a particular person in custody has been issued.

According to Suffolk police policy documents amended last April, non-US citizens cannot be detained “solely pursuant to a request from ICE” and “such detention shall only be conducted pursuant to a warrant.”

As for how the administration now compares to the one in power when his brother was tragically killed, Lucero said the difference is stark.

“If you go back 10 years ago, it was worse, really, it was worse against immigrants,” he said. “This administration has made progress.”

In public, Sini has displayed an openness to work with the community. During press conferences related to the recent MS-13 slayings, he has reiterated that a person’s immigration status would not be impacted if they came forward with information about crimes. And during two press conferences about four bodies found in a Central Islip park, a Spanish-speaking interpreter was present to translate the commissioner’s comments.

Sini also told the Suffolk County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee the department is making it easier for members of the Hispanic community to file complaints with Internal Affairs investigators. Doing so, he said, is good for transparency.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk police detective and one-time member of the Long Island Gang Task Force, said the department had always been involved in community relations, but to a lesser extent than it is now.

“I think the department is in a way better place than what it was,” Trotta said, attributing much of its rehabilitation to Burke’s downfall. “The bar was set so low that it’s doing much better. The guys are hard working, they’re trying to get the job done. There’s always a couple of bad apples in any bunch.”

That the police department has been more engaged and is making progress is clear in the report. But, as the DOJ’s Jan. 19 assessment notes, there’s still more work to be done.

If Lucero had it his way, the DOJ-led monitoring would continue until the department met all its requirements.

“I don’t see why they have to finish with this settlement, especially now, when the community is under attack,” he said.

Beatles Legend Paul McCartney Coming to Nassau Coliseum

 

 

Could this be the surprise performer officials teased at the new Nassau Coliseum unveiling last month?

On Tuesday, Beatles legend Paul McCartney announced a stop at the renovated NYCB Live Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for his much-anticipated “One on One” tour, which kicked off this month.

Besides Billy Joel, who opened the Coliseum earlier this month, McCartney will be the biggest name to grace the stage at the refurbished arena for his Sept. 26 show.

McCartney’s last Coliseum gig was in 2002, when he put on a 36-song performance, which included two encores. Among the notable hits that evening were “Hello, Goodbye,” “Blackbird,” “Let it be,” and “Hey Jude,” according to setlist.fm.

Tickets for the Sept. 26 show go on sale May 5. According to McCartney’s website, American Express cardholders can purchase tickets on advance between April 26 at 10 a.m. and April 30 at 10 p.m.

The Coliseum stop will be the last of four straight performances in New York, beginning with a show at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 15. From there he’ll head to Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sept. 19, and the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on Sept. 23 before hitting the Coliseum.

McCartney hasn’t played at MSG since 2005.

The new Nassau Coliseum officially reopened on April 5 for Joel’s sold out show. The 13,900-seat arena cost $165 million to renovate. Aside from an exterior facelift, the Coliseum boasts widened concourses, high-definition screens, brand new seats, Long Island-based food options and revamped restrooms.

Long Island Schools Named in ‘Best High Schools’ Report

Jericho High School was ranked as the top high school on Long Island in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 rankings—a survey that also included 11 other LI schools in the top 300.

Jericho High School was the only LI high school ranked in the top 100, but six others were ranked in the top 200: Garden City High School (No. 157), Great Neck North High School (No. 164), Syosset Senior High School (No. 173), Manhasset Secondary School (No. 177), Great Neck South High School (No. 195), and Cold Spring Harbor High School (No. 196).

Five additional schools were ranked in the top 300: Roslyn High School (No. 208), Herricks High School (No. 213), Paul D. Schreiber High Senior High School (NO. 223), North Shore Senior High School (No. 234), and Harborfields High School (No. 247.)

U.S. News & World Report, which releases its list of top schools annually, uses a four-step process to identify high performing schools—a scale that includes graduation rates, student performance on state exams, and college preparedness.

The publication reviewed more than 28,000 public high schools across the country. All schools in the top 500 were awarded its “gold medal.”

Overall, New York State was ranked No. 12, two spots below its neighbor and rival state, New Jersey.

Jericho High School came in at No. 11 in the state, No. 67 nationwide and was credited with having a 97-percent graduation rate and an Advanced Placement participation rate of 94 percent.

The latest rankings include both charter and magnet schools, though U.S. News & World Report noted that more than 80 percent of the top-performing schools are traditional public schools.

LONG ISLAND SCHOOLS IN THE TOP 300:

No. 67: Jericho Senior High School
No. 157: Garden City High School
No. 164: Great Neck North High School
No. 173: Syosset Senior High School
No. 177: Manhasset Secondary School
No. 195: Great Neck South High School
No. 196: Cold Spring Harbor High School
No. 208: Roslyn High School
No. 213: Herricks High School
No. 223: Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School
No. 234: North Shore Senior High School – Glen Head
No. 247: Harborfields High School – Greenlawn