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Jul 21, 2010 1:28 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach police hearings to begin next month

Jul 21, 2010 1:28 PM

The disciplinary hearings for two suspended Westhampton Beach Village Police officers, both accused of lying to superior officers and outside investigators last year, will begin in about two weeks, according to Mayor Conrad Teller.

The hearing for Officer Michael Bruetsch is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 3, while Officer Joseph Pesapane’s hearing is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 5, said Richard Zuckerman, the labor attorney for Westhampton Beach. Both hearings will take place at Village Hall, though they will not be open to the public.

Mayor Teller also revealed this week that he does not yet know if Village Board members will be the ones who decide on what to do with the hearing officer’s recommendations, which could range from dropping the charges to termination. The board could decide to leave that up to the hearing officer.

“I’d leave it to Richard [Zuckerman] to make sure we are not tainted or biased,” Mayor Teller said.

Mr. Zuckerman said he hasn’t gotten that far in the process, adding that it would be premature for him to speculate on that aspect of the upcoming hearings.

Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane, who were suspended without pay for 30 days earlier this month, were accused of lying during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau investigation that was prompted after a fellow officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters last year. Officer Bruetsch has been accused of three counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer and lying five times, while Officer Pesapane was accused of lying once, according to a copy of the IAB report.

Mayor Teller suspended the officers with pay in October, but the Village Board dropped the charges and reinstated them in December. The mayor tried several times to move forward with the hearings but was blocked by the board’s former majority. He secured the necessary votes to hold the hearings earlier this month, once he and his Village Unity Party running mates, Trustees Toni-Jo Birk and Sue Farrell, were sworn into office.

Mr. Zuckerman said he does not know how long the disciplinary hearings will take. The village gets to present its evidence and call witnesses first, then the officers get to present their side of events. Each side can then file rebuttals. Then, the hearing officer closes the record and begins the process of making a recommendation, Mr. Zuckerman said.

At its organizational meeting on July 6, the Village Board hired arbitrator Stephen Bluth, Esq., at a cost of $1,600 per day, to serve as the hearing officer. It was at the same meeting that the board suspended the two officers, effective July 7. Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane are scheduled to start receiving pay again early next month.

At this point, it isn’t clear how long Mr. Bluth will review the evidence before filing his recommendation with the Village Board. New York State Civil Service law does not put a time limit on that process. Still, Mr. Zuckerman expects a decision sooner rather than later. “But there is no deadline in which he has to do so,” he said of Mr. Bluth.

Police officers facing disciplinary charges can opt to have their hearings opened to the public. But as of earlier this week, neither Officer Bruetsch nor Officer Pesapane had requested to open the hearings, Mr. Zuckerman said. The transcripts of the hearings, however, will be public records, according to Mayor Teller.

Joseph Ferrante, an attorney with Keahon, Fleischer, Duncan and Ferrante in Hauppauge who is representing the two officers, did not return calls this week seeking comment.

Mayor Teller again said he is pleased that, after months of delays, the hearings are finally going to happen. “It’s been too long,” he said. “I’m just happy they are moving forward. It’s the only legitimate way to go.”

But Village Board member Hank Tucker, who unsuccessfully campaigned for mayor last month and has steadfastly voted against holding the hearings, said he is still uncomfortable moving forward with them. He also noted that he still has not received additional information that he previously requested from Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean.

“I hope that they are fair and just,” Mr. Tucker said of the upcoming hearings.

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Hank's comments are uncalled for. Things are going to get done the correct way without his interference. Get over Hank-you lost.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jul 22, 10 5:37 PM
This is long over due
By oldguy (60), hamptons on Jul 22, 10 5:48 PM
Do you realize the cost to the village at $1600 a day? It will be well over $10000! Can't wait to see the final cost
By LUVSH (28), Southampton on Jul 23, 10 11:37 AM
Even "well over $10,000" is dwarfed along side what the two suspended officers have already cost the Village of Westhampton Beach since the IAB report was first received.

And that's ALL on the previous Trustee majority! They are the next ones who should be put on trial.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 23, 10 11:53 AM
There are some issues that should cross party lines. These seem to be fairly serious charges (missing handguns and lying to internal affiars) - yet not everyone seems interested in investigating what occurred or why testimony given to SCPD IAB was deemed untrue. If the village has to spend taxpayer dollars to find the truth, so be it. This village has become the joke of the east end, and a good deal of Suffolk per some SCPD officers. Regardless of your political affiliations let's try to find the ...more
By Quoguer (8), Quogue on Jul 24, 10 10:03 PM
Can't wait for Keahon to try and bring this into Kabot's DWI trial ...
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Jul 23, 10 9:29 PM
So let me get this right , Mayor Teller selects a hearing officer , that he has known and is friends with for decades .... and this is going to be a " fair and unbiased" hearing .... what a JOKE !! !! !! More like the village hired a " HANGING JUDGE "
By Austin (3), Austin on Jul 23, 10 11:29 PM
WHAT??? Where did you get this from? Either you have special information from some other source, or you don't read very well!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 24, 10 1:12 AM
So I guess that the Sargent that lied in the Kabot case along with the officer that lost his gun when he was intoxicated will be the next ones to go..They both have been caught in lies so how are they different from these other two..They must go too!
By sayitaintsojoe (100), Westhampton on Jul 24, 10 2:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
The only person who lied in the Kabot case was Kabot.
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Jul 25, 10 4:58 PM
Actually, that's inaccurate.

Officer Gonce admitted to falsely filing a report, and though I have not seen the video from the police cruiser, word has it that she does not appear to be intoxicated on the film.
Jul 27, 10 7:24 PM appended by Mr. Z
And, Noah, that little breath a lyzer machine needs to be calibrated. As an intermediate geek myself, I know what I can do with a PC. Who is to say how that unit could be calibrated? Not taking the test, is actually the safer route since it would be hard to disprove a sworn officer's statement that is was properly calibrated. Then again, when it comes to WHB, maybe not...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 27, 10 7:24 PM
Ah, yes, "word has it" the catch-all qualifier for "I haven't the foggiest idea of whether it's true or not, and actually I don't care because it's what I choose to tell others."

In all the reports about this event and any of the problems surrounding thw Westhampton Beach Police Department, I've never read a single word suggesting that Sgt./Lt. Gonce is anything be a professional and dedicated police officers.

You should note that HE wasn't caught in a lie! He realized his error ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 27, 10 7:37 PM
Radar guns have to be calibrated before use, too. Police officers are trained in the use of all such equipment. It's a common legal ploy to look for errors in the such certification and related paperwork in an attempt to avoid prosecution.

Not taking the breathalyzer test is an admission of guilt. Are you saying that it is more likely that Kabot was intentionally targeted by an independent police department because of animosity from SH Town police?
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Jul 29, 10 5:46 PM