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Judge finds firing of Southold cop ‘reasonable and rational’

A former Southold Town police officer’s motion seeking reinstatement after being fired for poor job performance was denied Monday in Suffolk County Supreme Court.

The court found that the town was “reasonable and rational” in firing Garrett Lake, an officer who was fired four days before his probationary period ended last year, due to “ample support” that showed he did not undertake counseling and retraining or perform up to standards after the department received civilian complaints about his actions as an officer, according to Justice William Ford’s decision.

Mr. Lake disputed the notion that he was a poor performer, citing pressure after two “high profile arrests” he made in 2016, according to court papers.  He argued his termination was the result of political pressure from local Republican figures, specifically John Helf, the Southold Republican party vice chairman, and Joseph Sawicki Jr., the Suffolk County assistant deputy police commissioner for finance.

  • Read the full court document below

He said he was fired after he arrested Steven Romeo, who in April pleaded guilty driving while ability impaired in a fatal limousine crash in Cutchogue, according to court papers.

In addition, Mr. Lake claimed there was also pressure from the Jamesport Fire Department after he arrested first assistant chief David McKillop last year on a drunken driving charge.

While on duty, Mr. Lake was honored with a proclamation for making the Southold Police Department’s largest number of drunken-driving arrests in 2015.

The town responded to Mr. Lake’s motion, filed in April, and argued that as a probationary employee, Mr. Lake was not entitled to a reason for his dismissal. However, the town said that “poor or problematic performance” were the reasons for the dismissal, according to court papers.

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley, “while not finding Lake to be the worst performer in the department, had received certain civilian complaints” that painted him to be “overaggressive and overzealous in his use of police tactics in conducting vehicle traffic stops, searches and arrests,” according to court papers.

Concerns about Mr. Lake’s performance were found in a review of his vehicle camera and body microphone, according to court documents. Chief Flatley testified that Mr. Lake was counseled for his actions four times and was sent for additional instruction and retraining on proper vehicle traffic stops and searches.

Chief Flatley recommended Mr. Lake not be offered a job as a permanent police officer, which the Town Board accepted, according to court papers.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email Wednesday that the court’s decision affirms what the town had said all along.

“Mr. Lake was dismissed on the recommendation of the Chief of Police based solely on his job performance and for no other reason,” he said.

Eric Bressler, attorney for Mr. Lake, said Wednesday they are reviewing the decision.

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Lake Trial Court Decision by Timesreview on Scribd

Editor’s Note: John Helf was misidentified in an earlier version of this article. He is the vice chairman of the Southold Republican party. Joseph Sawicki Jr. is the he Suffolk County assistant deputy police commissioner for finance.