Police sergeant suspended without pay in latest fallout from 2020 cop retirement party

A Southold Town police sergeant has been suspended without pay pending the results of a hearing over a colleague’s 2020 retirement party that caused local controversy amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Town Board voted unanimously to suspend Sgt. Steven Witzke for up to 30 days without pay “pending the final determination of … charges that were previously served upon him,” according to a resolution.

The meeting agenda only identified him using his town employee number, which corresponds to a number included in a public document listing monthly police union dues deductions. It did not specifically state what those disciplinary charges were.

Sgt. Witzke, who has been a police officer in Southold for over a decade, is one of five town employees facing disciplinary action after an investigation into the police department’s response to community complaints about a May 2020 retirement party for one of its officers that violated social distancing protocols in place at the time.

Steven Witzke at a pinning ceremony in 2019, when he was promoted to sergeant. (Credit: Tara Smith/file)

Several residents told The Suffolk Times that they had contacted police about the party — claims that were verified through cell phone records — but no official police reports were generated by the department. In July 2020, the Town Board hired outside counsel to investigate the department’s response to the party.

Last August, the Town Board took action against police Chief Martin Flatley, suspending him indefinitely without pay. He was reinstated in October after issuing a public apology and agreeing to retire in June 2024.

Town records show that Mr. Witzke was promoted to sergeant in 2019. SeeThroughNY, a government transparency website, shows that he earned $191,119 last year.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell declined to comment on the employee suspension, citing that it was a confidential personnel matter.

Reached by a reporter Tuesday night, Chief Flatley would not specifically comment on the employee’s suspension but said he had not been advised of the Town Board action ahead of the meeting. “Not a professional way to proceed without any regard for the operation of the police department and excluding me in their decision making process,” he wrote in a text message. 

Two additional officers and a civilian are still subject to discipline over the incident. According to an August 2022 Town Board resolution related to the disciplinary charges, those officers are John Hinton and Daniel Mackey. The other employee is not listed on police union records. Non-PBA members working at police headquarters can include senior leadership positions and dispatchers. No further action against those employees was taken Tuesday.