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Aug 4, 2010 1:27 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Police disciplinary hearings begin

Aug 4, 2010 1:27 PM

Westhampton Beach on Tuesday held the first part of a disciplinary hearing for one of two Village Police officers charged with lying to superior officers and outside investigators last year.

Mayor Conrad Teller and Police Chief Ray Dean declined to speak in detail about the closed hearing for Officer Michael Bruetsch, which Mayor Teller said began at 10 a.m. at Village Hall and lasted until about noon, but was not completed. A continuation of the hearing has not yet been scheduled, he said.

“The hearing officer was here, the attorneys were here, the officer was here, and at noon they all adjourned, and the attorneys are talking,” Mayor Teller said on Wednesday morning.

Officer Bruetsch was accused of lying during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau investigation that was prompted when a fellow officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters last year. Officer Bruetsch was charged with three counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer and lying five times, according to a copy of the IAB report.

Another officer, Joseph Pesapane, was charged with lying once during the same investigation, according to the report. A separate hearing for him is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. today, August 5.

The hearings are closed to the public, and both officers are represented by defense attorney Bill Keahon.

Officers Bruetsch and Pesapane were suspended without pay for 30 days in early July. When that period expires this week, they will continue to be suspended but will be put back on the payroll, Chief Dean said.

In July, the Village Board hired arbitrator Stephen Bluth, at a cost of $1,600 per day, to serve as the hearing officer. At this point, it isn’t clear how long Mr. Bluth will review the evidence before filing his recommendation with the Village Board.

Although the hearings are now underway, Mayor Teller said on Wednesday that the village hasn’t determined who will make the final decision on how to punish the officers—if at all. Either Mr. Bluth could recommend that the Village Board institute a certain punishment, or the Village Board could authorize Mr. Bluth to determine a punishment himself.

Potential disciplinary actions range from no punishment to termination.

Richard Zuckerman, the labor attorney for Westhampton Beach, is still reviewing the matter, Mayor Teller said.

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 last month, once he and his Village Unity Party running mates, Trustees Toni-Jo Birk and Sue Farrell, were sworn into office, shifting the political dynamics of the board.

A transcript of the disciplinary hearings will be available at some point, village officials said, but it is not clear when.

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