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Southold’s ‘top DWI cop’ terminated; another officer resigns

05/26/2016 4:50 PM |

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Earlier this month, Southold Town police officer Garrett Lake stood next to a smiling Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley, holding his proclamation as the cop who made the most drunken-driving arrests in the town’s police department.

Just over two weeks later, the Southold Town Board terminated Mr. Lake’s employment.

The Town Board’s action, as well as the resignation of police officer Samuel Nitsch days later, has left the town police force with two open positions to fill as the summer months approach.

Chief Flatley and town officials have declined to comment on the two cases, citing state employment privacy laws. The town’s Police Benevolent Association president Richard Buonaiuto also declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Lake’s termination.

Mr. Lake, a Cutchogue Fire Department volunteer, was hired along with seven other officers in November 2014 as part of a staffing boost to the town’s police force. Mr. Lake was already certified as a police officer and did not need to attend the police academy after he was hired, Mr. Buonaiuto said.

Like all other Southold Town police officers, Mr. Lake entered a probationary period immediately after his hiring. He was still in that probationary period at the time of his termination, Mr. Buonaiuto said. Probationary police officers are “at-will” employees, meaning they can be dismissed without the employer having to prove “just cause” for the termination, according to the state attorney general’s office.

On May 3, Mr. Lake was among 22 other police officers across the county who were honored for making the most drunken driving arrests in their departments. That award was based on the number of arrests — not convictions — made by each officer.

Mr. Lake remained a town police officer until May 19, when the Southold Town Board held a special meeting in the Town Hall conference room and adopted a resolution to terminate his employment.

All board members except Louisa Evans, who was not present, voted in favor of the resolution.

After the meeting, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, town attorney Bill Duffy and Chief Flatley declined comment. Mr. Lake, who was present at the meeting, deferred comment to his attorney, Eric Bressler, who also declined to speak to The Suffolk Times for this story.

Then on Tuesday, the Town Board accepted the resignation, effective May 23, of Mr. Nitsch, who had been hired by the Town Board at the same time as Mr. Lake.

Again, town officials declined comment, citing state laws about employee privacy.

When asked for comment about Mr. Nitsch’s resignation, Mr. Buonaiuto said his decision had come as a surprise to those on the force, adding he hadn’t spoken to Mr. Nitsch yet about the reasons behind his resignation.

Mr. Nitsch could not be reached for comment for this story.

Most of the discussion during both special meetings took place in executive session with the Town Board then returning to public session to vote on the resolutions.

Both Mr. Russell and Chief Flatley said the town is already looking for three new officers — two to replace Mr. Lake and Mr. Nitsch and one to fill a position granted in this year’s budget. Mr. Russell said the town has pulled the civil service list of potential police officers and is now reviewing candidates.

Chief Flatley said he hopes to have candidates selected for interviews this summer.

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Photo: From left, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Southold Town police officer Garrett Lake and Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley. Mr. Lake was honored May 3 as Southold Town Police Department’s top DWI-catching cop. (Credit: Courtesy)

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