hamptons local events, express news group

Story - News

Mar 27, 2014 3:45 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Police Lieutenant Sues Former Boss And Department

Apr 2, 2014 10:33 AM

Southampton Town Police Lieutenant James Kiernan, around whom nearly two years of tumultuous investigations and political warfare swirled, has filed a $7.5 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the Town Police Department and the force’s former chief, William Wilson.

The litigation alleges that Mr. Wilson, while a candidate for police chief and later as the head of the police department, asked Lt. Kiernan to use his political connections to swing Republican officials in favor of his appointment to chief and attempts to purge the department of some of its senior officers. When the veteran policeman and longtime Republican Party committeeman declined, the suit alleges that Mr. Wilson mounted a public campaign of misinformation to remove Lt. Kiernan from the department—a campaign, he said in court filings, that cost him months of pay, a potential promotion to second-in-command, and caused him a great deal of pain and suffering.

The lawsuit names Mr. Wilson individually as well as the police department, for which Lt. Kiernan still works and is the third-most senior ranking officer. It asks for $2.5 million in compensatory damages for the ill effects of the stressful episode on Lt. Kienan’s health, plus at least $5 million in punitive damages.

Lt. Kiernan, when reached by phone this week, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but the claim filed in U.S. District Court on March 21 and served on the town on March 25 details his accusations, which name the department in general but are directed almost entirely at Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Wilson declined to comment on the details of the charges leveled against him in Lt. Kiernan’s lawsuit. But he said it did not come as a surprise, even nearly 18 months after his retirement from the chief’s post.

“We live in a very litigious society, and I’m not surprised by any litigation being filed,” Mr. Wilson said. “It kind of goes hand in hand with any internal disciplinary process. It’s just the way it is. I look forward to the opportunity to present the facts of the case.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and the other Town Board members did not return calls this week seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Sometime before he was appointed chief of the department in May 2011, the suit states, Mr. Wilson asked to meet with then-Sergeant Kiernan. At the meeting, Mr. Wilson, who was chief of the Southampton Village Police Department at the time, acknowledged that he knew some Republican members of the Town Board were not in favor of him taking over the town department and asked Sgt. Kiernan to appeal to his “Republican friends” on Mr. Wilson’s behalf.

The claim alleges that Sgt. Kiernan declined because he had never used his political role to endorse or support something relating to the police department. Days later, Mr. Wilson leveled a threat through “an intermediary” that if he did not support Mr. Wilson’s candidacy and he were to rise to chief, Sgt. Kiernan would “never advance in the department,” the claim states.

Mr. Wilson did win the appointment to the police department’s top post, over veteran Town Police Captain Anthony Tenaglia, who had been the department’s second-in-command for more than 20 years and was widely seen as the heir apparent. Former Republican Councilman Christopher Nuzzi and Conservative Councilman Jim Malone voted in favor of Mr. Wilson’s appointment, though both would become staunch critics of the chief in the ensuing months. Former Republican Councilwoman Nancy Graboski was the lone vote against Mr. Wilson’s appointment.

After taking over, Mr. Wilson pitched a sweeping overhaul of the town department, focusing on both its personnel and technology, that Lt. Kiernan’s lawsuit alleges included the firing of several senior officers. Again, Lt. Kiernan alleges in his suit that Mr. Wilson came to him seeking an intermediary through whom to appeal to Republican leaders to sway the support of the party’s board members.

In October 2011, with Town Board support, Chief Wilson promoted Lt. Kiernan to his current rank, making him the department’s highest-ranking officer behind Capt. Tenaglia, who had taken medical leave to have an operation and would go on to retire at the end of the year. The lawsuit purports that Chief Wilson then told the new lieutenant that he, effectively, owed it to him to swing GOP support behind his policies. By that time, the GOP-Conservative caucus majority on the Town Board had turned decidedly against the chief and had stymied his efforts at departmental changes at almost every turn, beyond Lt. Kiernan’s promotion.

“Wilson regularly lamented to [Lt. Kiernan] that [his] ‘Republican friends are killing me,’ and continued to demand that [Lt. Kiernan] use his position to advance Wilson’s agenda to Republicans on the board,” the lawsuit, filed by Lt. Kiernan’s attorney, Jason Abelove, states. “Wilson warned [Lt. Kiernan] that there would be ‘consequences’ for not assisting.”

In February 2012, Chief Wilson asked the Town Board to end Lt. Kiernan’s probationary period as lieutenant and demote him back to sergeant. The board refused, making the promotion permanent.

In May 2012, one year into his tenure, Chief Wilson placed Lt. Kiernan on “administrative leave” and presented the Town Board with 32 departmental disciplinary charges. The lawsuit alleges that the charges were “concocted” by Mr. Wilson and “several of his associates.” The Town Board suspended Lt. Kiernan, without pay, while it investigated the charges.

The charges Mr. Wilson filed have never been made public, as is typical policy regarding personnel issues, but sources familiar with them have said they focused on Lt. Kiernan’s former supervision of the town’s now defunct Street Crime Unit, an undercover drug trafficking investigation team that Lt. Kiernan led until its disbanding by then Chief Wilson in February 2012.

Among the allegations were claims that Lt. Kiernan, while still a sergeant and head of the Street Crime Unit, kept one of his undercover officers, Erik Sickles, on duty even after he was aware that the officer had developed an addiction to prescription painkillers, and then tried to cover it up.

Soon after Lt. Kiernan’s suspension, the Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office launched an investigation of more than 100 drug arrests made by members of the Street Crime Unit and, just a month later, recommended that two convicted drug dealers, Mohammed Proctor and Bernard Cooks, be released from prison because of problems with the legal cases that led to their convictions based on the investigations of the Street Crime Unit. Charges against at least two other men arrested by the unit, Kwame Opoku and Nathanial Cooper, also were later dropped. Mr. Opoku remained in prison at the time on a sentence stemming from other charges.

Mr. Cooper was awaiting trial on drug possession charges stemming from his January 2011 arrest but had them dropped by the DA’s office “based on the district attorney’s belief of an impediment to the conviction,” according to the text of a lawsuit filed on his behalf last month. Mr. Cooper’s lawsuit, which alleges wrongful arrest and imprisonment by Southampton Town Police, is at least the sixth to be filed in the last two years by men once arrested by the Street Crime Unit, though at least one of those suits, brought by Mr. Proctor, was dismissed by a judge.

Lt. Kiernan’s lawsuit charges that Mr. Wilson had told Town Board members that during his suspension Lt. Kiernan was “days away” from being indicted on criminal charges relating to his investigation into the Street Crime Unit. No such charges were ever filed against him.

In several instances the lawsuit charges that Chief Wilson had violated municipal public disclosure restrictions in sharing evidence of confidential investigations and closed-door town meetings, including transcripts from interviews with other members of the Town Police, with the media, including The Press. It also says that Chief Wilson “fed” misleading and inaccurate information to newspapers as part of a campaign to promote news stories “designed by [Chief Wilson] to publicly humiliate [Lt. Kiernan],” the complaint says.

Lt. Kiernan, in the suit, alleges that the ordeal of his six-month suspension, which ended the same week Chief Wilson announced his retirement, and the harsh media spotlight caused him and his family much embarrassment and that his personal health suffered from the stress.

Following Mr. Wilson’s retirement, the claim alleges, current Police Chief Robert Pearce discovered that some of the evidence used against Lt. Kiernan had been “fraudulently set up” by a current and unnamed Town Police officer. The suit claims Chief Pearce had asked the Town Board to conduct a new internal investigation but the board declined, in what the lawsuit labels a conspiracy to cover up past transgressions.

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Another nicely written article by Mr. Wright.

Time for all the dirty laundry to be aired . . .
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 27, 14 4:34 PM
2 members liked this comment
The foulest smelling laundry IMO is the hit-and-run death of Sister Jackie Walsh on July 9, 2012 -- over 88 weeks ago.

Previous articles quoted (former chief) Mr. Wilson trying to explain the 11-day delay in releasing the ID and photo of the alleged driver, who remains at-large.

Hopefully the Press is working up a new article on this "gross miscarriage of justice" [to quote a 2012 editorial] -- with new interviews with Mr. Wilson and Supv. Throne-Holst.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 27, 14 8:40 PM
1 member liked this comment

“We will follow the trail on this guy until the end of time,” Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. said. “We’re never going to stop going after him.”

We are ready for an update.

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 27, 14 8:42 PM
"Chief Wilson said this week that the decision to withhold that information was a joint decision by multiple agencies—one he supported.

"Once the suspect had been identified by investigators, the chief explained, several tips and leads on his whereabouts were obtained, and all the agencies involved—in addition to the U.S. Marshals and Town Police, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, New York State Police and Suffolk County crime laboratory are in on the case—determined ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 27, 14 8:46 PM
89 weeks and counting.

RIP Sister Walsh.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 1, 14 8:09 AM
1 member liked this comment
21 months ago today, Sister Walsh was mowed down and left to die on the side of the road.

The perpetrator remains at large, and Southampton Town owes us all an explanation for the 11-day delay.

Rest in Peace.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 9, 14 6:48 AM
Oh this might get interesting now.........
By mrobin (121), North Sea on Mar 27, 14 8:27 PM
Personalities aside, why does a new hired chief go after a police Sgt.? There was and is a chain of command. The Sgt. reports to a Lieutenant, and then a Captain, then the Chief. But When Bill was hired, Captain Tenaglia retired, and so did Chief Overton. And Bill Wilson promoted Sgt. Kiernan to Lieutenant. Things were fine, until the Republician town board did not work with Chief Wilson, so...........................It's just personalities, that is going to effect so much more within the department ...more
By trurepublician (53), hampton bays on Mar 28, 14 11:50 AM
Wilson was hired by town board after Overton retired. Tenaglia retired due to the town boards decision not to promote him.
By 2boysdad (1), southampton on Mar 28, 14 3:44 PM
I recall a reader comment in an earlier thread on Lieut. Kiernan which suggested that he had lied about his role in the Police Officer Eric Sickles case (abuse of prescription narcotics by an on-duty officer) but that he was immunized from blame by a rule that absolved a cop of liability for such malfeasance if a truthful response would have endangered his employment. It sounded incredible at the time (but not unreasonable in the context of normal STPD behavior.) Does anyone know if any of this ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 29, 14 10:40 AM
Please post a link to the earlier article, and references to the statement(s) in question.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 29, 14 7:43 PM
to PBR:

I didn't really think that I'd be able to track down the post but I got lucky. Here it is, in full:

"UPDATE: Sickles Returns To Duty; PBA Blasts Board Members, GOP For Making Him A 'Scapegoat'
Publication: The Southampton Press
By Colleen Reynolds 
AND MICHAEL WRIGHT Mar 21, 2013 1:00 PM
Mar 29, 2013 2:46 PM

Right back to my other comments re: Wilson coming forth, how can you ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Mar 30, 14 1:45 AM

What a tangled web we weave . . .
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 30, 14 6:51 AM
There is a new Tuesday article detailing other aspects of the history here.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 1, 14 6:51 AM
And the complaint has been posted here as a PDF [link at top].
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 1, 14 6:52 AM
Hmm, read the PDF filing of this officers lawsuit. His health has been negatively affected.......could this be the prelude to disability retirement? This officer says he did not have sufficient funds to pay his attorney so plead guilty to some of the charges leveled against him in his disciplinary hearing. According to Newsday, he made over $160,000 in 2012, how come he has the money now for this lawsuit? Could it be that he is looking for a nice fat settlement in addition to disability retirement? ...more
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Apr 1, 14 7:54 AM
Out of money?

Call the public defender.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 1, 14 9:08 AM
It is a foregone conclusion that Kiernan will take disability retirement, thus increasing his pension pay-out by 50%. It would be interesting to know what percentage of retiring STPD officers take disability.

This suit, while returning Kiernan no where near the $55,000,000 that he seeks, WILL reward him with six or seven figures, and it will never go to trial. The town board will agree to a payout so that their incompetency and political partisanship is not publicized. Had it only ...more
Apr 1, 14 11:27 AM appended by highhatsize
Forgot to add, for those who are wondering how Kiernan can afford the cost of this suit, it's costing him nothing. His attorneys will be paid a percentage of whatever his award turns out to be.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 1, 14 11:27 AM
Didn't have the money? I thought departmental charges and or hearings were the responsibility of his union, the SOA, not him personally so why bring this suit now, some people are just never happy. His career trajectory as stated in the motion was affected by the dept and former chief...... It's civil service, the best candidate isn't always the answer but who was a better test taker that day ( look at the admin of the Pd or any civil service job for that example) Says a lot about the dept when ...more
By mrobin (121), North Sea on Apr 1, 14 2:24 PM
Any word on whether the FBI has an investigation into this entire hamper of dirty laundry?

What say ye recently retired SHT employees?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 1, 14 2:35 PM
Article updated with more details.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 2, 14 9:51 AM
He is lucky to have a job, he plead guilty to some of the charges that were leveled on him. He should shut his mouth and take his pension and move on. Anyone in the private sector wouldn't have a job.
By guest (68), Bridgehampton on Apr 4, 14 10:13 AM