COVID-19

In closed meeting, Southold Town Board will discuss police chief’s investigation into cop’s retirement party

The Southold Town Board is expected to meet in a special executive session tonight to discuss an internal investigation into a police officer’s retirement party held last month in violation of an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo banning mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, town officials said.

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley submitted a report to the town attorney’s office last Thursday, detailing his findings into the event, which town residents said led to more than a half dozen complaints that the chief said were not recorded in the police blotter. At the Town Board’s request last week, the chief said he would review recordings of the department call system to see if residents did notify police and how those calls were handled.

His findings, however, will not be made public, according to town attorney Bill Duffy.

“Unfortunately we are not in a position to release any reports yet,” Mr Duffy wrote in an email Tuesday. “The chief’s report was preliminary, and therefore is ‘inter-agency or intra-agency , materials that are not … final agency policies or determinations.’ under section 87-2(g) of the Freedom of Information law.”

Asked about next steps, Mr. Duffy said the Town Board will “be meeting in Executive Session this week to discuss the preliminary findings and to discuss the next steps.”

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said because the matter involves personnel, it would be held in executive session.

“However, I assume we will issue a general statement to speak to the issue,” Mr. Russell wrote in an email.

Chief Flatley confirmed Monday that he had submitted his “preliminary report” to the town attorney’s office and had “no plans to share it with anyone else.”

Mr. Russell said the board was given a summary of the chief’s report from the town attorney. He expects the board to request additional information and questioned if a “satisfactory report can be done in a mere few days.”

“It will be a start, but I doubt it will be a conclusion,” Mr. Russell said of the report.

The May 29 retirement party was for Sgt. Steven Zuhoski, who worked his final shift that evening after nearly 24 years with the department. Photos of the event, most of which were removed from social media the following day, showed dozens of partygoers present at Sgt. Zuhoski’s Cutchogue tree farm despite the governor’s orders limiting gatherings to just 10 individuals.

Four town residents later reported to The Suffolk Times that they contacted police about the party, though no report was generated by the department. Witnesses interviewed by the paper estimated upwards of 150 attendees for the event, which included bagpipers and a fireworks show.

Reports of the party drew sharp criticism on social media and in letters to the newspaper from town residents demanding accountability from police and many others who defended the party.

Town Board member Sarah Nappa invited Chief Flatley to attend last week’s work session to address community concerns. She also requested that officers who attended the party be tested for COVID-19. On Tuesday, she said in a statement that the town will not pursue that option.

“Due to legal reasons, the Town Attorney and Supervisor Russell have decided not to pursue [COVID-19] testing for the town employees that attended the retirement party,” she said.