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Top Stories 2020: Police retirement party leads to investigations

Both an outside law firm hired by the Southold Town Board and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office launched investigations into the local police department’s lack of response to public complaints about an officer’s retirement party.

The May event honoring Sgt. Steven Zuhoski was hosted in clear violation of an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo limiting gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While town residents reported more than a half-dozen phone calls notifying police of the party, Police Chief Martin Flatley said no report was ever generated in the blotter. He also said it’s not clear whether a patrol car ever responded to the event, though a neighbor told The Suffolk Times she saw a police vehicle on site as she passed by the Oregon Road farm. A photograph that was viewed by The Suffolk Times, but has since been deleted from Facebook, backs that claim.

Photos from the event showed an estimated 100 or more people at the party not maintaining social distance and not wearing masks. The party also featured a fireworks show with no permits.

In a split vote in June the Southold Town Board voted to hire the outside law firm after an internal investigation by the chief was deemed insufficient. It was later learned through town records that the DA’s public integrity bureau had opened an inquiry into the matter.

No charges were ever filed and, more than six months later, none of the outside counsel’s findings have been disclosed.

“It is frustrating and I am sure we all want to see it completed quickly,” Supervisor Scott Russell said in October. “I am more focused on having one completed that is objective and thorough.”