Court: Southold didn’t act with malice over beachfront staircase

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05/16/2013 10:55 AM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | The base of the Soundfront staircase the Yu family built in Cutchogue. See the full length photo below.

A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights suit filed against the town by a Brooklyn couple who had been issued violations for building a masonry staircase at their Cutchogue vacation home on the Sound bluff without town approvals in 2006.

The bulk of the couple’s charges, including that they were discriminated against because of their Asian background, were thrown out of court last year. But the last issue — a charge of excessive police force — was dismissed May 1 by U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert.

With the federal suit resolved, the town will continue with its code violation case against Hui Hui Yu, a Brooklyn attorney, and her husband, Cheng Kai Yu, a retired physician, said a

Town officials say the Yus built a granite and cement block staircase on the Sound bluff at their Dignans Road home without any town approvals, such as a Town Trustees wetlands permit required for any construction within 100 feet of water. The couple, who describe themselves in the suit as Taiwanese immigrants, also violated town code by erecting a de facto fence by piling wooden pallets atop a stone revetment installed at the base of the bluff in the 1980s, town officials said. The couple claimed the state Department of Environmental Conservation permit for the revetment obviated the need for town approval.

“The structure they placed on the bluff is not to be built to code and is structurally unsound,” Ms. Hulse said. “It doesn’t seem like a safe staircase you’d want anyone to use.”

The town will seek to have the staircase conform with the code or be removed, Ms. Hulse added.

Town Trustee Jimmy King, who has been in office for 18 years, said he cannot recall anyone every applying for permission to install a masonry stairway to the beach. And with concerns that a non-timber structure could cause erosion to the bluff, there are doubts about whether the town would ever approve such a design.

Officials believe Mr. Yu did the work himself with help from a friend.

Claiming the Yus repeatedly failed to appear in town Justice Court to answer the code violations, the court issued a warrant for Mr. Yu’s arrest. He was picked up by town police, brought to court and released on $500 bail, said Riverhead attorney Thomas Sledjeski, the town’s special counsel.

The excessive force claim stems from Ms. Yu’s allegation that as she was sitting in a public area in Town Hall a police officer grabbed her arm and forced her outside.

But in her May 1 decision, Judge Seybert found that claim legally insufficient and lacking proof.

The excessive force claim was one of many, including racism, lodged in the civil rights action filed in 2010. That suit named 19 town officials as defendants, including Supervisor Scott Russell, both town justices, the town attorney, two town Trustees, the town police department and its chief, the zoning board, tax receiver and assessors.

The couple sought unspecified damages for pain and suffering.

“From day one they’ve taken a complete adversarial approach to this,” said Ms. Hulse. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a continuing violation and were looking to move forward with this.”

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