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Suffolk County Police Department

A woman takes part in the 9th annual Glen Ciano Blood Drive at the Commack Fire Department. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Hundreds lined up and waited to donate blood during the 9th annual Glen Ciano Blood Drive Feb. 9. The event, hosted by the Commack Fire Department and Suffolk County Police Department, is held in honor of a police officer and volunteer firefighter who died in the line of duty 10 years ago this month.

Suffolk County Police Officer Glen Ciano. File Photo.

Ciano, who served for more than 20 years as a police officer at the 2nd Precinct in Huntington, died while assisting another officer at a traffic stop Feb. 22, 2009. While at the intersection of Vanderbilt Motor Parkway and Commack Road in Commack, his vehicle was struck by a 2007 Dodge Magnum and burst into flames upon hitting a nearby telephone pole. Commack firefighters responded to the scene.

Ciano is survived by his wife, Sue, and two children, Samantha and Daniel.

“The Suffolk Police Department will never forget Glen and the dedicated service he provided to our communities,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “Though I didn’t have the honor of working alongside Glen — I’ve heard stories about the type of officer he was and his presence is missed to this day.”

Since 2011, a total of 1,084 donations have been accepted in Ciano’s honor, according to the New York Blood Center. These pints of blood have helped save the lives of more than 3,000 people, Yadira Navarro, business development manager for the blood center, said.

Due to unstable winter temperatures, the flu season and other challenges, blood donations Saturday were vital as the NY Blood Center said it’s in the midst of an emergency blood appeal, according to Navarro. Before the blood drive, the center’s blood had only enough pints in the storage to get through three to four days of standard operations — a healthy blood supply level is about 6 to 7 days.

“You are honoring such a wonderful officer who really served his community and this is one way where we can be a hero and save lives,” Navarro said.

Every year it means a little more.”

— Sue Ciano

Patrick Fazio, commissioner of the Commack Fire Department, said there’s no better way to honor Ciano’s life than donating blood. Smithtown resident Brian Moore who was among the hundreds who showed up Saturday, said giving blood can help so many lives.

A total of 234 pints of blood were donated at this year’s event, exceeding last year’s number of donations at 222.

“Every year it means a little more,” said Ciano’s wife, Sue. “I see friends, family — I meet new people every year.”

Sue Ciano said she stays at the blood drive for the whole day, talking to as many people as she can, and says events like these means her husband won’t be forgotten.

Huntington High School. File Photo

An outpouring of anger, tears and frustration rocked Huntington Monday night as hundreds of residents expressed concern about an article published by The New York Times Magazine during the school’s holiday break.

There was standing-room only inside the auditorium of Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School Jan. 7 as parents, teachers and students lined up to address Huntington school district’s board of education in reaction to the Dec. 27 publication of the article, “How a crackdown on MS-13 caught up innocent high school students,” written by ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier.

The Times article focused on the experience of an immigrant teenager at Huntington High School, named Alex, who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in June 2017 for suspected MS-13 gang affiliation. The story alleges Huntington school district’s school resource officer, Suffolk County police officer Andrew Fiorello, provided information and school documents to ICE that led to the student’s deportation in July 2018.

“The issue is very clear: Our classmates are being accused of participating in gang activity on evidence that does not prove their involvement beyond a reasonable doubt,” Steve Yeh, Huntington’s Class of 2017 valedictorian said. “Our school failed to protect our classmate.”

The facts questioned

Brenden Cusack, principal of Huntington High School, was the first to step forward Monday night to refute the magazine piece he claims “mischaracterizes” events portrayed.

“It is a clear misrepresentation of our school and of me, both personally and professionally,” he said. “The story as published is not the full story.”

In the article, Cusack reportedly wrote up Alex for allegedly defacing school property — a calculator — with gang symbols. The article states he informed the student it would be reported to the school resource officer.

Huntington parents and community members give a standing ovation after high school Principal Brendan Cusack’s speech. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The high school principal did not address the facts behind the immigrant teen’s case before the crowd gathered, citing student privacy laws.

“While it would be simple to argue statements and context in numerous places within the article, it does not change the fact that the events, as presented, are beyond upsetting,” read a Dec. 28 letter issued by the school district in response to the article. “We deeply regret the harm faced by any family in our community who has been separated from a child.”

This sentiment was echoed again by Huntington’s Superintendent of Schools James Polansky Monday night.

“There are many things about it that are deeply upsetting,” he said.

Huntington school district’s staff is not the only source used in the magazine article upset with the portrayals in the piece. Joanne Adam, director of Huntington Public Library, said the article claims its head of security banned students who have been suspended from school for suspected gang activity is untrue.

“It’s not our policy to ban people simply because they might be suspected of being in a gang,” Adam said.

Both library branches, Huntington and Huntington Station, are staffed by in-house security personnel and do not have any specific policies with regards to handling gang violence, according to Adam. In the last four years, she said she could not recall any incidents where Suffolk County Police Department was contacted for any related gang activity.

“If someone is suspected of being in a gang and using the library, they are just as welcome to use it as the next person,” Adam said. “So long as they are coming in and using a library as they should be.”

 

Immigrant students voice fears

Huntington High School students decried the current atmosphere and actions they’ve seen made by school officials in their interactions with immigrants and students of racial minorities.

“I know what it’s like to be a Latino in Huntington,” Landary Rivas Argueta, a 2016 Huntington graduate said. “It’s not welcoming, it’s not safe, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

More than a dozen recent high school graduates, collaborating as the Concerned Alumni for Protecting Our Classmates, say regardless of the factual truths in the Times article they have concerns over the adequacy of services provided for immigrant students and the district’s treatment of racial minorities.

“I know what it’s like to be a Latino in Huntington. It’s not welcoming, it’s not safe, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

—Landary Rivas Argueta

“We believe the school administration is responsible for providing a safe environment for all students to learn and grown,” read a Jan. 7 written statement to Huntington’s school board. “We were appalled to discover that not all of our peers felt a shared sense of safety.”

Savannah Richardson is a 2016 graduate who was enrolled in the district’s dual-language program as a Mexican immigrant whose picture hangs on a banner over Jack Abram’s auditorium.

“For years, I believed the [school resource officer] was placed there to protect us,” Richardson said. “I was never aware information shared with the SRO would end up in the hands of ICE.”

Xavier Palacios, a Huntington school trustee who privately practices as an immigration attorney, was quoted in the Times article. He said the information sharing was between the district’s school resource officer and ICE was not done with purposeful intent to harm.

“What happened to Alex was an unfortunate series of events of unintended consequences — I don’t think anyone meant to harm him,” Palacios said. “The truth is procedures failed Alex and possibly other students and we must change that.”

But Huntington parent Josh Dubnau said he first reached out to Huntington’s administration via email with concerns about the relationship between Suffolk’s school resource officer program and ICE over the summer, following a PBS “Frontline” documentary titled “The Gang Crackdown,” regarding treatment of immigrants and suspected MS-13 members, that ran in February 2018.

After several email exchanges with Polansky, Dubnau said he was reassured the district’s students safety was protected without a loss of rights.

“My trust in you [Polansky] at that time is something I deeply regret,” Dubnau said. “This school board and administration needs to re-earn our trust and it will be a challenge for you to do so.”

 

Suffolk’s SRO program

Polansky said Huntington school district has been involved in the county police department’s school resource officer program for more than 15 years. The program places uniformed police officers inside public school buildings to serve as points of contact between the school district, its staff and students, and other law enforcement officials in order to increase school safety.

“I think the role of law enforcement in schools in today’s political climate is open to considerable debate.”

— James Polansky

“I think the role of law enforcement in schools in today’s political climate is open to considerable debate,” the superintendent said.

Polansky sits on the executive board of Suffolk County Schools Superintendents Association, an organization of school administrators representing the county’s 69 school districts. The association has repeatedly called on the police department to further expand the SRO program, most recently as part of its blueprint for enhancing school safety.

“Part of our mission is to keep schools and campuses safe,” Elwood Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said in a phone interview. Bossert is president of the county schools superintendents association. “Having a strong collaborative relationship with the police force and having officers present in the building who are familiar with the campus, familiar with emergency response plans, familiar with faculty and students, go a long way to ensure the safety of our students.”

School resource officers are employees of the police department, not the school district, and there is no formal agreement as to the position’s duties and responsibilities, according to Bossert.

“I think those folks who right now have some real concerns about the presence of police officers don’t necessarily have an understanding of that job,” he said. “If they did have a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of an SRO it would help alleviate some of the concerns being expressed in my neighboring community.”

The superintendents association has called for formal written document of an SRO officer’s “role and responsibility” dating back to a May 2018 letter sent out to Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) and the police department. Still, nothing concrete has been developed as to date.

“We need clarity and guidelines. If we can’t get those, I am not comfortable having those officers in our buildings going forward.”

— Jennifer Hebert

“We need clarity and guidelines,” Huntington trustee Jennifer Hebert said. “If we can’t get those, I am not comfortable having those officers in our buildings going forward.”

There is no law mandating that school districts participate in the SRO program, according to Bossert, but he is not aware of any district that has voiced opposition to being a participant.

“I urge this board to carefully consider any decisions and weigh the long-term consequences  against the perceived short-term benefits,” said James Graber, president of the Associated Teachers of Huntington. “A year ago, there were calls for more security in this school district because of the incident in Parkland [Florida]. To move in the other direction would be a mistake.”

 

Future of SRO program in Huntington

Huntington school administrators said they’ve seen the immediate need to review its existing policies and procedures, particularly when it comes to the role of its school
resource officer.

“In light of current national and local concerns, however, we believe that we must advocate for an additional layer of organization addressing the relationship between school districts and the police department,” read the Dec. 28 letter to the community. “This can be accomplished through formulation of a memorandum of understanding.”

Huntington parents and community members came to the meeting Jan. 7 armed with a detailed list of suggestions of what should be in the proposed agreement between the school district and Suffolk’s police department.

Diana Weaving, of Huntington, presented school trustees with detailed suggestions from a concerned citizens group regarding the treatment of immigrant students and the duties of the SRO officers. It suggested the memorandum of understanding includes extensive data collection including the number of times law enforcement is called to Huntington schools, number of arrests, which arrests were school-related offense, the location and date of offense and note of the involved student’s age, race, ethnicity, gender and English language learner status.

In light of current national and local concerns, however, we believe that we must advocate for an additional layer of organization addressing the relationship between school districts and the police department.”

— Huntington school district Dec. 28 letter

Weaving requested the district provides SROs, security guards and school staff with more extensive training in cultural competency, racial bias and prejudice, and restorative justice.

Aidan Forbes, Huntington’s Class of 2018 valedictorian and member of Concerned Alumni for Protecting Our Classmates, called for more in-depth investigation of a student’s character before they are reported to an SRO along with changes to the district’s suspension policies. Zach McGinniss, also a 2018 graduate, demanded more cultural training for SROs and issued a request the school district not share student’s information with third parties — including ICE — without court order or consent of a student’s parents.

All involved called for a written contract, or memorandum of understanding, to be drafted as soon as possible. The superintendent said it will necessitate a process involving community input to draft an agreement, and it will require both Suffolk police department and the school district to come to the table. He cited some Nassau County school districts which have documents that can be used as examples, but each must be uniquely catered to each individual district.

Polansky said he envisions the proposed document could be used as a template that could be used by other Suffolk schools. Trustee Hebert agreed, saying Huntington must make every possible effort to transform the SRO system into a better program.

“I see us as being given the mandate of having to figure this out for everyone else,” Hebert said. “And we will.”

Huntington school board will further discuss the SCPD’s SRO program at their upcoming February meeting.

A man allegedly entered a Port Jefferson Station gas station Oct. 13, displayed what appeared to be a gun and demanded cash. Photos from SCPD

A man wearing a ski mask allegedly entered Speedway gas station in Port Jefferson Station Oct. 13, displayed what appeared to be a hand gun and demanded cash, according to Suffolk County police.

Sixth Squad detectives are investigating the incident, which occurred at the gas station located at 501 Patchogue Road in Port Jefferson Station at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, police said. When the masked man made the request, the gas station employee did not comply, and the robber fled, and there were no injuries, police said.

Detectives believe this robbery is connected to an armed robbery that occurred at Sunoco gas station, located at 1575 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, Oct. 7 at 9:45 a.m. During that incident, a man entered the store, displayed what appeared to be a gun and demanded cash. The clerk complied and the man fled. No one was injured.

The suspect, pictured above, is described as light-skinned black, 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall with a medium build and a goatee.

Detectives are asking anyone with information about these incidents to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

File photo

Suffolk County Police Department 6th squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a motorcyclist in Centereach Oct. 12.

George Kellerman, 58, of Centereach, was riding a 2003 Harley-Davidson motorcycle northbound on Horseblock Road when his motorcycle collided with a southbound 2004 Toyota that made an illegal U-turn on Horseblock Road at approximately 11 a.m.

Kellerman was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the Toyota, Jose Diaz Benitez, and his 2-year-old son, who was in a car seat in the vehicle, were not injured.

Diaz Benitez, 39, of Centereach, was issued tickets for Unlicensed Operator and Improper U-Turn.

Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks. Detectives are asking anyone with information about this crash to call the 6th squad at 631-854-8652.

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FIle photo

The Suffolk County Police Department Property Section will hold a property auction Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m. at the Property Section building, located next to Police Headquarters at 30 Yaphank Avenue in Yaphank.

Among the items being auctioned are hand and power tools, jewelry, a Dyson vacuum, automotive items, electronics, bicycles, clothing and accessories. Motor vehicles and motorcycles will not be sold at this auction.

A preview of select items will be held on Oct. 9 between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at the Property Section building.

The event will be held rain or shine and all items will be sold in “as is” condition. All purchases are subject to New York State sales tax and payments must be made in cash. In the event of severe weather, check the department’s website, www.suffolkpd.org or call 631-852-6685 for schedule changes.

Three young boys battling cancer have long been fascinated with police, and Sept. 19 they got the opportunity to immerse themselves in the lives of law enforcement officers.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron swore in Zachary Cote, 9, and Jesse Pallas, 11, of Miller Place, and Sean Hughes, 10, from Port Jefferson as SCPD officers for the day during a surprise ceremony at police headquarters in Yaphank. Sean’s brother, Kyle, 8, also joined for the day’s events.

“It’s hard to put into words what our kids go through every day, but when we see a child smiling and this excited, its these things that will stick with them,” said Fariba Pallas, Jesse’s mother.

Each held up their hand as Hart asked them to repeat the words to be sworn in. Once she reached the end, she smiled and said, “Welcome to the department boys.” Already used to repeating what she said, they repeated her again, “Welcome to the department boys,” the young officers said in tandem.

“Just to see the smile on [Sean’s] face, he’s a very happy boy today.”

— Melanie Hughes

The swearing in was a surprise for both the kids and their parents. The adults thought their children would be meeting for a tour of the police department, but instead the kids got to join the ranks of the adults in blue.

Pallas said her son has been in the hospital for nearly half his life after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. She said being sworn in as an officer was a big moment for him.

Pallas asked her son who’s his superhero. “Police,” the young man shouted.

“He wants to be a police officer every Halloween,” she said.

The families originally met at an event hosted by the Thomas Scully Foundation in 2017, a nonprofit founded with the mission of brightening the lives of kids fighting cancer, and both the parents and kids bonded over their shared experiences. Melanie Hughes, Sean and Kyle’s mother, said that the kids did not have to talk to each other about their experiences, because they all know without having to say.

“It’s really sad to see kids go through what they have to go through to fight for their lives,” Hughes said. “Just to see the smile on [Sean’s] face, he’s a very happy boy today.”

The idea came about from county police Sergeant Patrick Kelly, who met the kids and their families during the annual Long Island 2-day Breast Cancer Walk in Shirley. The officer was so humbled by their enthusiasm for local police he decided to do whatever he could to make a special day for the kids, he said.

“Once the word got out everyone stepped up to the plate and wanted to be a part of this,” Kelly said. “These kids are unbelievable. They’ve gone through more in their lives than I could even imagine of going through.”

“These kids are unbelievable. They’ve gone through more in their lives than I could even imagine of going through.”

— Patrick Kelly

After the swearing in ceremony, the kids were taken outside to experience a number of police department activities, including working alongside detectives from the Identification Section; meeting with Emergency Service Section officers; and checking out Highway Patrol cars and a police helicopter. The Suffolk County K-9 unit brought out a number of their dogs for the kids to meet. Officer Brendan Gayer, a member of the K-9 unit, had quite a lot of experience with the kids, especially Jesse who has had a long standing passion for the dogs, collecting baseball cards with the names and pictures of the unit’s many hounds.

“I met Jesse years ago, and he approached me, and he was infatuated with my dog,” Gayer said. “He just loves them.”

At the end of the day, the kids were presented with a proclamation followed by a walk-out ceremony usually reserved for retiring high-ranking members of the department.

All three of the young cancer patients have long been enamored with the police department. Zachary’s father Glenn Cote said ever since his child was little he would make “awooga” sounds every time a police car passed by.

“As long as he’s been able to talk he’s looked up to the police department,” Cote said. “This is a really special day for him to be around a bunch of people that he wants to grow up to be.”

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File photo

Suffolk County Police Department 6th squad detectives are investigating an incident in which a man and woman were shot in Centereach and later died from the injuries.

The 6th Precinct officers responded to a 911 report of two injured people in a car on Washington Avenue at approximately 8 p.m. Sept. 11, according to police. When officers arrived they found the woman in the driver’s seat of a 2014 Kia Soul with a gunshot wound to the head and the man in the passenger’s seat with a gunshot wound to the head. A firearm was recovered inside the vehicle.

Police have identified Erick Horton, 48, of Coram, and Stacy Rountree, 48, of Coram, as the of the incident. Horton and Rountree have both died from their injuries following the shooting, according to police.

Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call 631-854-8652.

This post was updated Sept. 14 following updates from the police on the victims’ status.

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This skiff belonging to Wen Zhong Wang, 37, of Ronkonkoma, was found empty in the Long Island Sound. Photo from SCPD

A man spent 45 minutes treading water in the Long Island Sound Sept. 4 after being knocked off his small boat by a wake, according to Suffolk County police. The man was rescued from the water after his unoccupied skiff was spotted floating in the Sound.

Marine Bureau officers Cory Kim and Gregory Stroh responded aboard Marine Delta after a fisherman reported finding an unoccupied skiff floating in the Long Island Sound at about 12 p.m. Tuesday, police said. While officers were responding to that call, a 911 caller reported a person yelling for help in the water off Old Field Road in Setauket.

Officers Kim and Stroh located the man, Wen Zhong Wang, 37, of Ronkonkoma, approximately 1/10 of a mile from shore. Wang, who was not wearing a life jacket, had been in the water approximately 45 minutes after he was knocked off his 9-foot skiff when it was hit by wake from a passing boat. Wang was transported to the Port Jefferson boat ramp where he was evaluated by Port Jefferson Ambulance personnel and released.

The fisherman towed the boat to shore where it was secured by the Port Jefferson Harbormaster.

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Pizza lovers hoping for a slice at one East Setauket restaurant had to go elsewhere this Labor Day weekend.

John Fornino, owner of Via Pizza & Pasta, said he was standing at the restaurant’s kitchen door at approximately 3:25 p.m. Sept. 1 when he heard an explosion of glass. He said his first reaction was to cover his head, when he looked up he saw an SUV stopped just short of the counter.

Fornino said the vehicle came through the window, and in addition to the window being shattered, the front wall was damaged. The SUV knocked over tables and chairs inside the pizzeria, but he said no one was inside or in front of the business.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the 71-year-old female driver was treated at the scene and did not need further medical attention. Fornino said he didn’t talk to the driver but he could see she was distraught.

Two Town of Brookhaven building inspectors and a fire marshal were on the scene shortly after the incident, according to Kevin Molloy, a town spokesman. While it was condemned during the Labor Day weekend, he said after a visit by a town fire marshal and inspector Sept. 4, the building was deemed safe for public use.

Updated Sept. 4 to include accounts from John Fornino.

Detectives are looking for Alejandro Vargas-Diaz, 36, who also goes by Alejandro deVargas-Diaz and Robin Vargas, who police have identified as a suspect in a July shooting in Port Jeff. Photos from SCPD
Detectives are looking for Alejandro Vargas-Diaz, 36, who police have identified as a suspect in a July shooting in Port Jeff. Photos from SCPD

A suspect has been identified in connection with the deadly shooting at a Port Jefferson billiards hall in July, and the police is looking for help from the public.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are looking for Alejandro Vargas-Diaz, 36, who also goes by Alejandro deVargas-Diaz and Robin Vargas. He is the alleged shooter in a July 22 incident in which Albert Luis Rodriguez Lopez, 27 of Selden, was shot and killed at about 8:30 p.m. inside Billiards DBM, located at 1604 Main Street in upper Port Jeff Village, according to police. He has ties to Brooklyn, Queens, Paramus, New Jersey, Patterson, New Jersey and Hartford, Connecticut, police said.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637) or by email at www.tipsubmit.com. All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

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