Suffolk County residents and lawmakers have known since early 2017 there would be a new District Attorney for the first time since 2001, but thanks to a federal indictment, the timeline for that to take place has moved up.
Thomas Spota (D), the sitting Suffolk County District Attorney, was charged by a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York Oct. 25 with four counts relating to his involvement in the obstruction of a federal civil rights investigation. Christopher McPartland, the Chief of Investigations and Chief of the Government Corruption Bureau of the DA’s office, was also indicted.
Spota released a statement Oct. 26 announcing his intentions to step down “at the earliest opportunity after the resolution of normal administrative matters relating to my retirement.” Emily Constant, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, will serve as the interim District Attorney until the winner of the 2017 campaign for the seat is sworn in next January.
The four charges were conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding; witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; and accessory after the fact to the deprivation of civil rights. The initial civil rights violation investigation was examining the actions of former Suffolk County Police Commissioner James Burke, who was charged in December 2015 after assaulting and thus violating the civil rights of a Smithtown man who had been arrested for breaking into Burke’s police-department issued vehicle. He was also charged with conspiracy to obstruct the investigation. Burke was sentenced to 46 months in prison almost exactly one year ago.
“Prosecutors swear oaths to pursue justice and enforce the law,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement following the indictment. “Instead of upholding their oaths, these defendants allegedly abused the power of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, attempted to cover up the assault of an in-custody defendant, and attempted to thwart a federal grand jury investigation. Abuses of power by law enforcement authorities cannot and will not be tolerated. There are serious consequences to such actions.”
Since allegations against Burke came to light and he pleaded guilty in February 2016, Spota’s resignation has long been discussed by members of both political parties.
“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement who were working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and conspiring to conceal his past…” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in May 2016 on the steps of Spota’s Hauppauge office, “Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so that we can begin the process of reforming this place governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you fail to do so, I will call on the governor to exercise his authority under the constitution to remove you from this office.”
Bellone renewed his call Oct. 25, before Spota’s announcement the next day.
“The person holding the awesome power to decide whether people go to jail or not cannot effectively serve under federal indictment for corruption,” Bellone said in a statement.
The indictment detailed some of the specifics of Spota’s and McPartland’s actions that led to the charges.
“Between December 2012 and the present, defendants Spota and McPartland, together with others including Burke and other members of the SCPD, had numerous meetings and telephone conversations discussing the assault of John Doe, John Doe’s allegations against Burke and the federal investigation,” it reads. “During those meetings and telephone conversations, defendants Spota and McPartland, and Burke and other members of the SCPD, agreed to conceal Burke’s role in the assault and to obstruct and attempt to obstruct the federal investigation in order to protect Burke.”
Bellone has been criticized by Republican legislators and others for his role in Burke’s promotion, and some have also called for his resignation during the last year.
Spota, 76, of Mount Sinai, and McPartland, 51, of Northport, were arraigned Oct. 25.