Chief suspended following investigation into Southold PD handling of community complaints over officer’s 2020 retirement party

Southold Town police chief Martin Flatley, who joined the department as a full-time officer in 1980 before rising through the ranks to run it for more than a decade, has been suspended indefinitely without pay pending a disciplinary hearing, The Suffolk Times has learned.

Capt. James Ginas is now the acting chief, a source confirmed.

The Southold Town Board took disciplinary action against five town employees Tuesday in the aftermath of a two-year investigation into the police department’s handling of community complaints about a retirement party for one of its sergeants. The employees were identified only by their employee numbers in resolutions appointing a hearing officer under the procedures of civil service law.

Three of the employee numbers were found on a town document listing police union dues that name officers John Hinton, Daniel Mackey and Sgt. Steven Witzke. The fifth employee number is not included on the list of union officers or another resolution in 2015 granting the employee maternity leave.

The resolutions approved Tuesday do not say what disciplinary charges the five employees face.

Reached via text message Wednesday, Capt. Ginas referred comment to the offices of the town attorney and supervisor. Town Supervisor Scott Russell and other members of the Town Board have declined to comment on the disciplinary charges, citing their roles as judges for the disciplinary procedures. Acting town attorney John Burke did not respond to requests for comment.

Reached via telephone on multiple occasions since Tuesday, Chief Flatley has so far declined to comment on the suspension.

The chief faced criticism soon after the May 29, 2020 retirement party for Sgt. Steven Zuhoski when he told a reporter the following day that he was unaware the party had taken place and that the department received no complaints. The party was held at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when social gatherings of more than 10 people were prohibited.

“Our department celebrated three retirements yesterday afternoon with a traditional walkout ceremony at our headquarters,” the chief wrote in a May 30, 2020 email following up with the reporter. “I don’t have any direct knowledge of what occurred at other celebrations after ours.”

Chief Martin Flatley was at a press conference in Southold the morning after the retirement party when he first told a reporter the department received no complaints about a retirement party. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

But four town residents told The Suffolk Times that same day that they had contacted police about the party. Their calls were verified through cell phone call histories, though no official police report was ever generated by the department. Witnesses interviewed by a reporter at the time estimated that upwards of 150 people attended the event, which included bagpipers and a professional fireworks show. One photo viewed by The Suffolk Times showed a patrol car at the party. 

Chief Flatley, who was set to earn a salary of more than $215,000 in 2022, faced further criticism from the Town Board upon filing his own investigation into the department’s response in June 2020. Members of the board deemed his report insufficient. The town then hired outside counsel to conduct its own investigation and a summary of those findings were presented to the Town Board last month. The Suffolk Times has submitted a freedom of information request to obtain those findings, which have not yet been made public.

The chief began his career with the department as a seasonal officer in the late 1970s, before being hired full-time in 1980. He later served as a detective, a sergeant of the detective division and captain before being appointed chief by Mr. Russell and the Town Board in June 2011.

Capt. Ginas was appointed second in command in January, having previously served as lieutenant.