Manslaughter charges dropped against alleged drug dealer in fatal overdose deaths

A Suffolk County Supreme Court judge has dismissed manslaughter charges against a Greenport man who allegedly sold cocaine mixed with fentanyl to two men who died of an overdose last year, court records show.

Judge John Collins met with attorneys in his chambers Tuesday before announcing in open court that he had reached a decision on a motion filed by the defense. A copy of that decision, sent to the Suffolk Times by attorney Lane Bubka of Riverhead, shows that the judge has dismissed two counts in the indictment against Lavain Creighton, citing a lack of evidence to prosecute him for manslaughter.

“The People did not present legally sufficient evidence to demonstrate whether defendant was aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and justifiable risk that death would result from his alleged actions of selling cocaine mixed with fluoro-fentanyl to decedents, and that the risk constituted a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation,” Judge Collins wrote.

Mr. Creighton is still facing 14 other charges in connection with the sale of the drugs to the two men, who were among six local residents who overdosed in a one-week period in August. He waived his appearance in court Tuesday and remains remanded at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

Mr. Bubka said in a statement the judge’s decision “supports and is consistent with our position that Mr. Creighton is innocent of these charges.”

“Though we as well as Mr. Creighton are truly saddened over the loss of the lives associated with this case, we have maintained that Mr. Creighton was not guilty of manslaughter,” Mr. Bubka concluded.

Swainson Brown at The Pridwin in August 2018. Credit: Annabelle Woodward

Prosecutors linked Mr. Creighton directly to death of Swainson Brown, the chef at the Pridwin Hotel on Shelter Island. Cell phone records show Mr. Brown called Mr. Creighton between the hours of 8:58 p.m. and 10:11 p.m. on the evening before his death, prosecutors said. Investigators also recovered ferry tickets that showed Mr. Brown traveled from Shelter Island to Greenport at 9:18 p.m. Two outgoing calls to Mr. Creighton were recorded at 9:35 p.m. Mr. Brown then returned to Shelter Island, with a ferry ticket confirmed at 10 p.m. He died on the island the following day.

The other victim prosecutors tied directly to Mr. Creighton is Matthew Lapiana of East Marion. Former Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said Mr. Lapiana had been texted a warning that there was fentanyl in drugs that he allegedly purchased from Mr. Creighton, but the warning arrived too late.

“He was already dead,” Mr. Sini said at an August press conference.

 It was only the third time in Suffolk County history that a manslaughter charge was brought against alleged drug dealers in connection to a fatal overdose, former District Attorney Timothy Sini said.

Mr. Creighton, who has two prior drug convictions, could still face significant jail time if tried and convicted on the remaining charges, which include seven counts each of criminal sale and possession of a controlled substance. Class B felonies, the charges each contain a minimum 10 years in prison for an individual with a prior criminal conviction. The manslaughter charges, Class C felonies, featured a maximum 15 year prison sentence, but a minimum of just 3 1/2 years.