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Mar 9, 2011 1:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Police Officer Will Forfeit 20 Days Pay

Mar 9, 2011 1:06 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board unanimously agreed on Tuesday to seize 20 days of pay accrued by suspended Village Police Officer Joseph Pesapane—a decision that will lead to his third unpaid suspension in the past year.

During a special meeting called on Tuesday morning, Village Board members supported the recommendations put forth by disciplinary hearing officer Stephen Bluth, who was asked to determine the appropriate punishment, if any, for Officer Pesapane’s role in a 2009 incident involving another officer’s missing handgun.

Board members signed off on Mr. Bluth’s recommendation that Officer Pesapane, whose current suspension with pay began in July, lose 20 days of accrued time, effective March 8. Because he has only 12.5 days of vacation pay and sick time remaining, Officer Pesapane will be suspended without pay for the difference—or 7.5 days—beginning on March 9, according to Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller. On two other occasions, Officer Pesapane was suspended without pay in connection with the investigation, a total of 30 days each time.

Tuesday’s ruling will cost Officer Pesapane approximately $7,895, or $394.74 per day, according to Village Clerk Rebecca Molinaro. He earns about $91,581 a year.

“I figure the conviction stands up for itself,” Mayor Teller said on Tuesday, declining to comment further on the matter, explaining that it is a personnel issue.

“The hearing was a sham—S-H-A-M,” said William Keahon, Officer Pesapane’s defense attorney who participated in the disciplinary hearings. “When an officer in Westhampton Beach is brought up on charges, the Village Board selects a hearing officer to take the evidence and determine any sanctions.

“It is a fixed forum,” he continued, noting that other municipalities require approval from a village or town board, as well as the police union, before accepting the recommendations of a hearing officer.

Officer Pesapane was originally charged with lying once during a Suffolk County Police Internal Affairs Bureau investigation after a fellow officer’s handgun went missing from police headquarters in November 2009.

“The allegations were ridiculous, the proof had no merit, and the decision and the findings of the judge I knew would be what they would be from day one,” Mr. Keahon said. “Mr. Pesapane was not guilty of the charge.”

The disciplinary hearing for that specific charge began in August and wrapped up about two months ago, Mayor Teller said. He added that Mr. Bluth’s report was distributed to the Village Board last week.

Village Board member Hank Tucker—one of two board members who refused for months to move forward with the disciplinary hearings—voted in support of the punishment, though his explanation suggests that he does not entirely agree with the decision. He also stressed that his role was to just make sure the hearing process was properly followed.

“I was not the judge and I was not the jury,” Mr. Tucker said, “so the hearing officer’s recommendation is what the board went with. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in agreement with the whole process.”

When reached on Tuesday, Westhampton Beach Village Police Chief Ray Dean declined to comment on the board’s decision, saying it involves a personnel matter.

Officer Pesapane still faces a second round of charges stemming from the same incident—two counts of making false statements and one count of intentionally providing false or incomplete information to investigators. The first two charges stem from statements he made to outside investigators in July 2010, and the third allegation stems from June 2009. That hearing, which is also being run by Mr. Bluth and closed to the public, began in February, according to Mayor Teller.

“There’s a good chance it could end this month, but I can’t really say,” he said. “There are a couple more witnesses to be heard.”

Mr. Keahon, who will not defend Officer Pesapane during the second hearing, said he does not predict a favorable outcome for his client.

“It’s preordained that the hearing officer will now find him guilty and he will be dismissed from his job,” Mr. Keahon said. “They bled my client financially and he was unable to continue with me representing him. He is relying on the union lawyer to defend him in these present charges.”

Village Board member Toni-Jo Birk declined to comment on Tuesday’s action. She did note that the conclusion of Officer Pesapane’s first hearing marks a significant milestone.

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I hear that target is hiring, maybe these clowns can go work there....
By Clarity (65), Whb on Mar 8, 11 6:39 PM
Unbelievable, these are the people we are supposed to look up to. Now we find out that they are lying like the criminals they arrest! Shame on you both, the heck with suspension without pay YOU BOTH SHOULD BE FIRED!! Without any question!
By johnnyhampton (82), Southampton on Mar 8, 11 8:42 PM
Besides the obvious point that this officer should be terminated, Aren't these salaries way out of line ? OMG !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Mar 9, 11 10:39 AM
Are you kidding me! Suspended with pay since July and Pesapane is making $104,000 a year and Bruetsch is making $117,000 a year. That is totally outrageous an excessive pay for a village this size. At most they should be making $35,000 - $40,000 for a village this size and that may even be a lot. No wonder taxes in NY are so high. allowing these outrageous salaries to police officers in a village,, come on,,, the Chief should only be making $50,000..
By sayitaintsojoe (100), Westhampton on Mar 9, 11 11:52 AM
The genesis of this whole series of suspensions, un-suspensions and re-suspensions seems goofy. Like a practical joke that got out of hand and had consequences out of all proportion to the misdeed. (I really don't know the specifics other than the edited version that has appeared in the Press.)

If that WAS the origin (i.e. a harmless practical joke) rather than an act with malicious intent, I hope the officers don't lose their jobs as a result.

The salary matter is a separate ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 9, 11 12:37 PM
More people went to jail than were involved in the original break-in at the Watergate complex -- it was the cover-up, and that involved perjury.

Seems to me the same thing here.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 9, 11 5:19 PM
The article states that the police officer is accused of lying to Internal Affairs. A serious charge which will follow the police officer forever and ruin his credibility as a police officer. The investigation and hearing apparently revealed that the officer did lie. Mr. Tucker votes to punish the police officer and put the black mark on his record but then says he was not the jury and does not agree with the process? He certianly was the jury, he found the officer guilty, voted to punish him ...more
By silverbeaver666 (8), westhampton on Mar 11, 11 8:27 AM
i agree with silverbeaver..im confused by tuckers comments. if he didnt like something then why didnt he vote no???????
By southfork11960 (14), Southampton on Mar 11, 11 2:11 PM