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Former Southold officer’s lawsuit headed to trial after Appellate Division overturns prior ruling

A former Southold Town probationary police officer’s suit against the town over his firing in May 2016 has won a victory in the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, which has ordered the town to turn over videos sought by the former officer’s attorney.

Garrett Lake had argued in court papers that he was fired in bad faith due to political pressure. His and his attorney’s efforts to move the suit forward have previously stumbled in State Supreme Court with judges’ decisions denying an Article 78 proceeding aimed at returning Mr. Lake to the job.

Last month, however, the Appellate Division overturned that previous ruling, saying the in-car videos sought by Mr. Lake’s attorney, Eric Bressler of Mattituck, are in fact pertinent to the case. With that decision, Mr. Lake’s suit remains alive and goes back to State Supreme Court in Riverhead for trial.

In a statement, Mr. Bressler said he was “extremely pleased” with the decision, which was issued Dec. 30. “Specifically, the Appellate Division held that Mr. Lake had submitted sufficient evidence of wrongful termination so as to entitle him to a trial on the issues.

“The Appellate Division further held that Mr. Lake was entitled to discovery of the evidence upon which it was alleged his termination was based, which the lower court denied,” Mr. Bressler wrote.

In response, Town Attorney William Duffy said, “The Appellate Division decision is not a final decision. It does not address the merits of Lake’s claims; rather, the decision found that the trial court erred procedurally when it denied the petitioner’s request that the town make available certain video footage and dismissed the petition without a trial. We respectfully disagree with the Appellate Division.”

Mr. Duffy said he will consult with outside counsel whether to make a motion to the Appellate Division “to seek leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.”

Mr. Lake had argued he was fired due to his involvement in two high-profile arrests: a drunken driving arrest in the fatal 2015 limousine crash in Cutchogue, and the DWI arrest of a Jamesport Fire Department chief. 

Mr. Lake had been honored in 2016 with a Suffolk County proclamation for making the department’s highest number of drunken-driving arrests. He alleged in court papers that the incidents infuriated local Republicans, who he claimed exercised undue political influence on the police department and Southold Town Board. 

Mr. Lake also argued that police Chief Martin Flatley admitted to him at separate times that political pressure was a factor in his dismissal. 

In its decision, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Bressler’s petition “to compel the disclosure of certain video recordings” held by Southold Town. 

In court papers, Mr. Lake state that the arrests of the two individuals had been lawful and proper and that he was fired in bad faith. In response to that allegation, the court papers state, the town “asserted that Lake’s employment was terminated in good faith based upon his failure to adequately perform his police duties.”

The papers state that Chief Flatley had viewed in-car videos and determined that many of Mr. Lake’s arrests were legally problematic. It is those videos that Mr. Bressler had sought that the Appellate Division ruled Mr. Lake is now entitled to.

The court papers state that “the Town’s present contention that those same videos are now irrelevant and unnecessary to the issues presented in this proceeding rings hollow.”

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