Articles by

Grant Parpan and Jennifer Gustavson

08/03/13 12:33pm

GRANT PARPAN FILE PHOTO | A Suffolk County Police Helicopter was called to Orient Saturday.

A Suffolk County police helicopter was called to airlift a possible stroke victim to Stony Brook University Medical Center from Orient, fire officials said. The helicopter landed near Oysterponds Elementary School.

The call came in shortly before noon Saturday. Police said the victim was a female.

This is the second straight day a police helicopter was called to Orient to airlift a stroke victim. Emergency officials said the helicopter was necessary in both incidents because Stony Brook, unlike nearby Eastern Long Island Hospital, has a stroke center.

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03/05/13 2:30pm

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | Police Chief Martin Flatley updated The Suffolk Times Tuesday on the missing persons investigation involving 16-year-old Ashley Murray of Peconic.

Eight days after teenager Ashley Murray was last seen at her house in Peconic, the Southold Police Department says it’s working hard to locate her, though they say less information is pouring in from the public and the number of local places to search is dwindling.

In an interview with The Suffolk Times Tuesday morning, Police Chief Martin Flatley and Captain Frank Kruszewski said the search for the 16-year-old Southold High School student has extended beyond the length of any missing persons investigation in their time with the department.

“[There’s never been one] this long or drawn out,” Chief Flatley said. “They’re found the same day most of the time.”

He said there’s no evidence Ashley has contacted friends and family or visited any social media sites since she was last seen by her brother shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 25. Ashley was alone with her brother in the family’s house on Spring Lane when she left at the time she normally leaves for school, but she never boarded her school bus that morning, Chief Flatley said.

Nobody has heard from her since.

“Her reluctance to contact friends and family has made this investigation more challenging,” Chief Flatley said. “We’re hoping she’s with someone else and that she’ll soon reach out to someone.”

This missing person poster has been posted in many locations throughout Suffolk County.

Southold Police have partnered in the investigation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI, the Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Chief Flatley said investigators have looked into leads from as far away as New Jersey and have also followed reports of possible Ashley sightings in Water Mill and East Islip. Police say they also looked into a possible connection with a 26-year-old Sag Harbor man who disappeared last week but was later located in New York City. So far none of the leads have checked out, the chief said.

Chief Flatley is still asking that anyone with information on Ashley’s possible whereabouts contact police at 765-2600. He said many of the tips received to date have been from friends informing police of places Ashley liked to hang out. More than two dozen isolated locations nearby have been searched thoroughly using police dogs, he said.

Because of the rural location of the Murray home, which is surrounded by trees and is in close proximity to creeks and the bay, Suffolk Police canine and aviation units were brought on early in the search process, he said.

Chief Flatley also said police went door-to-door in Ashley’s neighborhood, even searching vacant summer homes and nearby barns.

Suffolk Police and the FBI have been involved in forensic searches of computers and cell phones. The FBI’s behavioral science resources have also helped aid the investigation, Chief Flatley said.

State police and the FBI were used to interview Ashley’s estranged father in upstate New York last week and they ruled out a possible connection to her disappearance, Chief Flatley said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent Lee Manning, a veteran missing persons investigator from Massachusetts, to aid in the investigation last week. A second investigator from the organization, a retired NYPD detective, is also joining the search effort, Chief Flatley said. NCME is authorized by Congress to perform programs and services to assist law enforcement and families of missing or sexually exploited children, their website states.

“[Mr. Manning] is one of the top experts in his field,” the chief said.

Mr. Manning has been networking with other experts from around the country throughout the investigation, Chief Flatley said.

“[They’re discussing] where she’s likely to be and what she’s likely to be doing,” he said.

The involvement of the District Attorney’s office has centered around the need for subpoenas to investigate phone and computer records. They also can help secure search warrants, the chief said.

Chief Flatley said he’s open to the idea of public search parties aiding in the investigation, but so far has asked the public to focus instead on handing out missing persons fliers.

“The problem is once someone goes into an area it becomes contaminated,” he said, adding that human searches can decrease the effectiveness of canine units.

Moving forward, Chief Flatley said, police will continue to focus on interviewing friends and family and developing more leads to her possible whereabouts or if she left the area with someone else. He said there are no other active missing persons investigations in the town.

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02/28/13 3:39pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Friends of Ashley Murray gathered near Southold High School Thursday to organize a search party for their friend, who has been missing since Monday.

Plans to search under bridges and along the waterfront for missing Peconic teen Ashley Murray have been altered, as Southold Police have asked the group organizing the search party to instead focus their efforts on handing out fliers.

More than 40 local residents met across the street from Southold High School at 3 p.m. Thursday with plans to participate in the search.

Brianne Catapano, 18, a friend who organized the search and created the Facebook page “Ashley Come Home,” said police feared a search party could contaminate evidence and believed they would be more helpful if they handed out fliers.

Ms. Catapano said she made 500 fliers and an additional 2,000 fliers were donated to her.

The searchers then broke up into small groups, which will head to different hamlets nearby to hand out fliers this afternoon.

After Ms. Catapano made sure everyone received copies of the missing person report, she headed to Greenport to ask business owners to post the flier in their windows.

“I didn’t think this many people would show up,” Ms. Catapano said. “I’m very happy about the turnout. It’s been very hard. I haven’t gotten much sleep. I hope she’s found.”

Ashley, 16, has been missing since 8 a.m. Monday, police said.

Her mother, Charlotte Murray, learned of her daughter’s disappearance after receiving a call from school officials who told her social workers got word from students who had received texts from Ashley that said she would kill herself. Her mom later found a note from her daughter, which she called a “suicide note.”

Southold Police initially employed a marine patrol, its canine unit and a Suffolk County Police helicopter to perform a physical search Monday morning, but later focused their investigation on the possibility that she may have left the area. They then ended the active local search Monday afternoon and began to concentrate on examining phone and computer records, and interviewing close friends and family, police said.

Police did not release an official missing person report until Wednesday morning, more than 50 hours after Ashley’s disappearance. Law enforcement officials said Ashley’s case does not fit criteria for an “Amber Alert,” since she is not believed to have been abducted.

Many of her friends and classmates have said they were out searching locally this week for their friend, who they said was often bullied in school.

Ashley is 5-foot 4-inches and 140 pounds with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes, her mother said. She was last seen wearing red sweatpants “four sizes too big,” black boots and a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood, Charlotte Murray said. Police added that she has a scar on her right wrist and wears hearing aids in both ears.

Anyone with information should contact Southold Police at (631) 765-2600. Information will remain confidential.

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JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Anthony Claudio enters the federal courthouse in Central Islip Wednesday morning.

The jury did not produce a verdict Thursday following the first day of deliberation in former Mattituck-Cutchogue special education teacher Anthony Claudio’s age and gender discrimination case against his former employer.

Mr. Claudio, 50, alleges in his complaint, which was filed in 2009, that he was terminated from a special education department where 28 of 30 employees were female and most were younger than 30. He’s seeking reinstatement, back pay and punitive damages.

The trial began Oct. 9 before Judge Joseph Bianco at the federal courthouse in Central Islip.

The eight-member jury requested Thursday that partial transcripts from the testimony of three witnesses — Mr. Claudio, superintendent James McKenna and teacher Barbara Smith — be read back by the court clerk.

The testimony from Mr. McKenna was him explaining what he meant when he said Mr. Claudio taught in an “old-school way.”

The transcript of Ms. Smith, who is Mr. Claudio’s wife’s sister, was her testimony that Mr. McKenna once told her he liked to hire young female teachers he could mold.

Mr. Claudio’s testimony, which relates to his explanation of how he believed the district discriminated against him, was still being prepared when the jury was relieved for the week at 4:30 p.m.

The jury will continue deliberations at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

BETH YOUNG FILE PHOTO | Mattituck superintendent James McKenna at a school board meeting last year.

A missing video recording of the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education meeting when Anthony Claudio’s employment as a special education teacher ended was a major theme during the first day of testimony in his case against the district for age and gender discrimination.

Opening statements in the civil suit filed in 2009 by Mr. Claudio against his former employer began Tuesday afternoon before Judge Joseph Bianco at the federal courthouse in Central Islip. Jury selection was completed that morning, with three male and five female jurors having been selected.

In his complaint, Mr. Claudio, 50, alleges that he was not offered tenure in a special education department where 28 of 30 employees were female and most were younger than 30. He’s seeking reinstatement, back pay and punitive damages in his complaint.

Mr. Claudio’s attorney, Frank Blangiardo of Cutchogue, said during his opening statement that the ratio of female employees to male employees at the school is 8 to 1 and it has become “chock-full of young, young women” since 2005 when James McKenna became district superintendent.

“The evidence will show Mr. McKenna hired young women he can mold,” Mr. Blangiardo said.

The Board of Education voted 4-3 on April 16, 2009 to end Mr. Claudio’s probationary period, with board president Jerry Diffley, then-vice president Debra Cahill and board member Janique Nine voting in opposition to the resolution, according to minutes from the meeting.

Mr. Claudio also alleges in his suit that in the days leading up to the board meeting, school board members were “threatened and influenced” by Mr. McKenna and high school principal Shawn Petretti to vote along with the superintendent’s recommendation.

The location of the video recording of that school board meeting dominated Tuesday’s testimony.

The plaintiff’s first witness, district clerk Cathy Gilliard, who also serves as Mr. McKenna’s secretary, said the school’s audio/visual coordinator Lisa Hinsch would bring her VHS tapes of the meetings and they were kept in her office.

“I know it was videotaped that night,” Ms. Gilliard said of the April 16, 2009 school board meeting. “After that, I don’t know.”

Ms. Hinsch was later called to the stand and she testified that she was hired in Oct. 2008 but didn’t start collecting the videotapes until June 2009. Prior to that, Ms. Gilliard collected them, she said.

After a high school student records a Board of Education meeting, Ms. Hinsch said she drops off the videotape at Southold Town Hall in order for it to be broadcast on public access and then returns it to Ms. Gilliard.

Ms. Gilliard testified that the school has a system in place where people can borrow the videotapes and she said “several” 2009 board meeting video recording are missing.

In addition to the missing VHS tape, Ms. Gilliard’s appointment as district clerk was also discussed during the trial.

Former school board member Andrew McGowan, who served from 2005 to 2008, testified Tuesday he voted against Ms. Gilliard’s appointment as district clerk in 2007 because he had concerns about her working as Mr. McKenna’s secretary too, which she has since 2003.

“It was a contested issue,” Mr. McGowan said. “I was concerned about the transparency of the process.”

Mr. Claudio was 46 years old when his probationary period ended. He charges that the district coerced him into signing an agreement the year before that stated he would not sue for tenure after the district extended his probationary period one year prior to his termination.

According to Mr. Claudio’s complaint, Mr. Petretti assured the plaintiff that he would attain tenure if he signed the agreement and continued on track. Additionally, Mr. Blangiardo argued Tuesday that Mr. Claudio decided to sign the agreement because his wife was sick with cancer and he needed health benefits.

Mr. McGowan also testified about the spring 2008 school board executive session to extend Mr. Claudio’s probation but not offer him tenure.

Mr. McGowan described the meeting as a “heated discussion” and said he had walked out, but later came back, because he was “upset about the process.”

“I said ‘It should be brought to a vote,’” Mr. McGowan testified. “Mr. McKenna said ‘If I don’t put it on the agenda, you don’t vote.’”

Jeltje DeJong, a Smithtown-based attorney representing the Mattituck school district, described the issue as a “legal question” and said it was later determined a school board can’t override a superintendent’s recommendation to deny a teacher’s tenure.

The district says the decision to not offer tenure and part ways with the special education teacher was based on his performance.

Ms. DeJong said during her opening statement that the offer to extend Mr. Claudio’s three-year probationary term by another year was made in order to give him enough time to find employment elsewhere.

“He was not a good special education teacher,” Ms. DeJong said. “It wasn’t an easy decision for the administration.”

Judge Bianco said in court Tuesday that the trial could last as long as three weeks or as many as 10 court sessions.

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