East End’s top cops honored at Kiwanis Club dinner

Southold police officer Steven Zuhoski. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)
Southold police officer Steven Zuhoski. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)

Investigative work that led to the arrest of five gang members involved in a shooting attack on two rival gang members in Southold last fall earned Officer Steven Zuhoski the Southold Town Police Department’s Officer of the Year Award for 2014.

He was honored Jan. 23 at the Southampton Kiwanis Club’s annual East End Police Awards dinner at the Sea Star Ballroom in the Hyatt Place East End.

It’s the second time he’s won the Kiwanis award in the past four years.

On Oct. 14, Mr. Zuhoski and other officers responded to a 911 call about two men with gunshot wounds at a house on South Harbor Lane in Southold. The shooters had fled on foot, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley explained in an interview last week.

While another officer responded directly to the scene, Mr. Zuhoski, an 18-year member of the Southold force who was with the U.S. Marines before that, was there as backup. He noticed a vehicle parked on a side street with its lights off and decided to check it out, Chief Flatley said.

As he walked up to the parked car, he saw two men sitting inside and began questioning them. A search of the vehicle turned up a loaded .22 caliber pistol and a machete, the chief said.

Meanwhile, the officers who had responded directly to the house learned that the victims — one of them shot in the abdomen and the other in the side of the chest — had been jumped as they walked home.

After questioning, the two men in the car were arrested for assaulting the men in the house, according to Chief Flatley, who said those arrests led to the arrests of three other men involved in the assault.

Police later discovered that the five men involved in the shooting were members of MS-13, a violent street gang, and the two who were shot were members of the rival 18th Street gang. Both gangs have ties to South America.

One of the assailants was accidentally shot in the leg during the melee and was later arrested at Southampton Hospital, while another was arrested in Riverhead after evidence was found matching evidence in the Southold case, Chief Flatley said.

“This case is a true testament to the fact that the front line patrol officer is the most important member of any police department as the initial response to a call of this importance,” Chief Flatley said. “And officer Zuhoski exemplifies what a difference an experienced officer can make by his response to this assault.”

When Mr. Zuhoski was named Southold Town Police Officer of the Year for 2011, he was honored for his role in busting a pharmacist who was involved in illegally dispensing prescription drugs for cash.