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Geraldine Hart

Germani Williams, at left, marches at a protest in Huntington earlier this month. Photo from SCCC

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and police department representatives joined 60 Suffolk County Community College students and staff July 13 in a virtual conversation about policing in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. The forum was arranged as part of Suffolk’s The Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding’s weekly forums for students.

Advocacy and Empowerment 101: Protest to Progress was born from weekly virtual gatherings held each Monday evening to empower students as well as provide an open forum to share their thoughts after the death of George Floyd while being detained by Minneapolis police and the subsequent national dialogue about police, discrimination and race. The students also discuss what they can do to effectively and actively bring about change.

Hart shared with students the department’s ongoing efforts to engage with and build community relationships. Hart was joined by Deputy Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis, Assistant to the Police Commissioner Felix Adeyeye and Inspector Milagros Soto.

Suffolk County Community College 2020 graduate Germani Williams, 28, from Holbrook said she urged the college to initiate the forum with police. 

“I wanted to know what Suffolk was going to do to make students feel safe during this time, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Williams said, adding that watching the news during the last several weeks has brought about a range of emotions from angry to sad and worried and a lot of anxiety. But, Williams said, speaking with the Suffolk County Police Commissioner was “potentially a once in a lifetime necessary conversation.”   

Williams said that while the conversation was a good beginning, more needs to be done.“

There was honesty,” she said. “But it was disheartening to go to a protest in Huntington the next day and witness police officers handing out tickets to protestors.”  

The former student added she will continue to be a voice for social justice and equal rights as she prepares to continue her studies at St. Joseph’s College in the fall.

“The Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding and Suffolk County Community College are committed to providing opportunities for students to connect and openly discuss important issues impacting students’ lives,” said Jill Santiago, director of The Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. “The conversations the students are having with each other and with the police department are a critical first step if we expect to bring about substantial change in our communities. We expect these conversations to continue throughout the summer and into the fall.” 

The weekly forums open to all Suffolk County Community College students are sponsored by the College’s Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding, the Office of Student Affairs, and the Black and African American Student Success Task Force.

The Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding: Featuring the Holocaust Collection’s mission is to teach about historical events and promote issues of social justice and respect for human dignity through educational programming. The center’s vision is of a world in which each person can live in peaceful coexistence and pursue a life in freedom and dignity, and in which our citizens reflect upon their moral responsibilities. In addition to programs and events, the center offers tours of its Holocaust museum which houses the largest collection of Holocaust artifacts in the region.

Stock Photo

In a milestone indicative of how deadly and prolonged the toll of the virus has been, Suffolk County reported the first day without a death from COVID-19 since March 16.

“I’m finally able to say that no one in Suffolk County in the last 24 hours has died from COVID-19,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “That’s a great place to be.”

While Bellone said the county, which entered Phase Two of its reopening Wednesday,  June 10, still has a ways to go before it controls the spread of a virus that has claimed the lives of 1,945 people in the county, the day without a death from the pandemic is a “milestone.”

With many other states, including Texas and North Carolina, are experiencing a surge in the number of people diagnosed with the virus and being admitted to hospitals for their care, Suffolk County continues to experience a decline in the number of residents testing positive.

Indeed, in the last day, despite protests over the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of a former police officer charged with murder, the number of people who tested positive in the county only increased by 47, raising the total to 40,559.

Bellone attributed the current condition on Long Island to the pain, uncertainty and suffering that rocked Long Island, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

“Because of the experience we’ve gone through, overwhelmingly, people are taking precautions,” Bellone said. “They are still listening to the guidance. Even at protests, even at demonstrations, I have seen people wearing face coverings.”

Suffolk County also has an advanced testing and contact tracing system that is making a difference as the area reopens.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order requiring local police agencies to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s plan must include procedures and practices that extend beyond the use of force by April 1, 2021.

The police forces have to engage the public in the process, present a plan for comments, and share that plan with a local legislative body. If the government doesn’t certify the plan, the police may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

Bellone said he “looks forward to working with the state” on community police policies. The county executive said he is proud of the work the Suffolk County Police Department has done with anti-bias training.

The SCPD has “developed leading edge initiatives.”

Cuomo also signed a bill passed by the state senate earlier this week repealing 50-a, a statue in civil law that prevented people from accessing records of police and other civil servants like firefighters. Advocates said this will allow more transparency, especially regarding police misconduct. Police unions and senate republicans said this would puts cops in more danger, despite proponents saying people cannot gain access to cops’ personal information.

Bellone reemphasized a point he has made in recent days amid the backlash against unjust and unfair policing polices, suggesting that the police are “part of the community, they aren’t coming into the community” from the outside.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said she met this morning at 11 a.m. with the President of the Guardians, which is an internal fraternal organization representing black officers. She meets with the Guardians on a monthly basis.

Officers in the Guardian “know they have accessibility to leadership,” Hart said. “Those conversations lead to suggestions.”

The discussion this morning was more informal and was part of an open conversation and dialog.

As for the impact of COVID-19 in the county, the numbers continue to show a hard-fought recovery from the deadly virus.

Hospitalizations in the 24 hours ending on June 10 declined by 17 to 134. The number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit also declined by four to 41.

“These are all great numbers,” Bellone said.

An additional 16 people were discharged from hospitals in the county.

The bed capacity remained below important levels. Residents with COVID-19 represented 66 percent of the overall beds, and below 60 percent of the ICU beds, which are below the 70 percent guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The county handed out 17,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day.

Finally, the county worked with Island Harvest to distribute food through a program called Nourish New York today.

The effort, which was at the Westfield South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, planned to distribute 100,000 pounds of food, including cheese, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables and ground beef.

The program “helps those in this desperate time who need food” while preventing waste and supporting the agricultural community, Bellone said. Through 2 p.m., the program had handed out more than 2,500 boxes of food items.

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right. File photo

With protests and violence rocking several cities, including New York City, after the videotaped killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called the officer’s actions a type of racism.

“Perhaps the most disturbing thing” about the way now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, who is now in jail on charges of third-degree murder, acted is the “lack of concern that this officer showed in knowing that he was being videotaped,” said Bellone on his daily conference call with reporters. “That suggests this officer felt that there was no accountability.”

In calling the actions of Chauvin structural racism, Bellone pointed to a Newsday investigation that revealed a similar type of racism and discrimination in the housing industry on Long Island.

While Suffolk County has made “an incredible amount of progress, we clearly have much more work to do,” Bellone said.

The county executive said he understood the protests that have taken place in response to videos that showed Chauvin kneeling on the neck of the handcuffed Floyd, whose pleas that he couldn’t breathe went unheeded.

Bellone, however, said overrunning a police station “can not happen” and expressed his support for the vast majority of police officers who are “hard working, dedicated professionals who are putting their own safety on the line to protect us.”

In a statement she read during the media call, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Floyd’s death was “an outrage” and was “unacceptable.” She condemned the tragic killing, while adding that she holds the officers of the Suffolk County Police Department to the “highest standards.”

Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron, who has been on the force for over 35 years, described how he has been in situations where people resisted his efforts to arrest them.

Force is a “last resort,” Cameron said. Officers are trained to “use the bare minimum force necessary to get someone into custody.”

Cameron has never put a knee to another person’s neck and said he had never seen another police officer in the SCPD use a similar tactic during his career. Officers have not received training to pin a suspect to the ground with a knee to a handcuffed person’s neck.

Pinning someone to the ground could cause positional asphyxia, spinal damage, or can cause damage to the airway.

Cameron said he believes his officers will step in and intervene if another officer is using unnecessary or excessive force.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the state would be getting the attorney general to review procedures following the demonstrations which turned violent on Friday, with multiple instances of recorder violence against protesters and violent actions against police.

Viral Numbers

As for the COVID-19 numbers, the county has had an additional 87 positive tests, bringing the total to 38,582. That doesn’t include 13,733 people who have tested positive for the antibody.

Hospitalizations have declined by 16 to 275 as of May 28. At the same time, the number of residents with COVID-19 in ICU beds has fallen by 5 to 80.

Hospital capacity was at 65 percent for overall beds and 62 percent for ICU beds.

The number of people who have been discharged from the hospital in the last day was 27.

An additional 13 people have died from complications related to the coronavirus. The total number of deaths has reached 1,892.

Separately, the county reopened its camping reservation system yesterday at 4 p.m. Residents made 4,739 reservations for 25,608 reservation days.

“That shows the demand we have and the desire for people to get out and enjoy summer,” Bellone said. “We are going to be able to have a summer here in Suffolk County.”

Beaches, meanwhile, remain open for residents only.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

At about 1:30 a.m. May 26, Suffolk County Police officers rescued five people, including a 6-year old and a 15-year old, from a fire in Huntington Station.

After a 911 call, officers found the building at 1344 New York Avenue, which has a commercial business on the first floor and two apartments on the second floor, on fire.

The family at the rear of the building climbed to the roof, where they awaited help. Officer Giacomo Marchese steadied a ladder as Officer John Farrell and Michael Haggerty climbed to the roof.

Farrell handed the 6-year old to Haggerty, who carried the child to safety. The officers escorted the other family members off the roof. The family went to Huntington Hospital as a precaution.

Meanwhile, Officer Matthew Berube entered the burning building in a street level entrance, climbed to the second floor and escorted a woman, who was unharmed, out of the building.

“Five lives were saved today in part due to the immediate actions of these four Suffolk County police officers,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart in a statement. “Every day, police officers put on their uniform not knowing what is ahead of them and today, these officers risked their lives running toward a burning building to save Huntington Station residents. The Suffolk County Police family could not be more proud of these heroic officers.”

The cause of the fire appears to be non-criminal, according to an SCPD spokesperson.

A blood sample with respiratory coronavirus positive. Stock photo

Even as Suffolk County moves closer every day to the possibility of restarting the economy and reopening shuttered businesses amid a steady decline in hospitalizations from COVID-19, the number of positive tests for the county as a hole and for hotspot testing sites for the virus continue to increase.

In the last 24 hours, 889 people tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total who have tested positive for the virus that has caused the pandemic to reach 36,974, bringing the total above the number of confirmed cases for Switzerland and about 44 percent of the number of confirmed cases out of China, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The number of positive tests “should be a little bit of a wake up call for people,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. “We know the margin for error in the rate of transmission is not great.”

Indeed, the county executive said the transmission rate for each positive test is about 0.75. If the county rises to 1.1 on the rate of transmission – meaning each infected person passes along the virus to more than one other person – the virus could “spread out of control,” Bellone said. “We don’t have a lot of room to spare in these numbers.”

Bellone urged Suffolk County residents to understand that reopening “has to be done right.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during his daily press briefing today that he will work to figure out what is causing the new infections, which would enable a more targeted approach to protecting the population, Bellone suggested.

As New York starts the seventh week of the governor’s New York Pause tonight, the number of people who have died in Suffolk County continues to climb. Over the last day, 29 people have died from complications related to Covid-19, bringing the total number of fatalities in the county to 1,256.

“There is not a person in Suffolk County who hasn’t been either directly impacted or knows somebody who has been affected,” Bellone said.

On the positive front, the number of hospitalizations continues its steady decline, with a reduction of 38 residents in the last day, bringing the total to 813. That is a decline of close to 51 percent from the highest coronavirus hospitalizations, which the county reached April 10. If the numbers decline over the next two days, Suffolk County will have reached 14 consecutive days where the net number of hospitalizations from the virus came down. That would meet the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to start a phased reopening of the economy.

The number of people in Intensive Care Units also declined by three, to 324.

As of today, the number of people in hospital beds and in the intensive care units hovered around 70 percent, which is also a targeted figure from the CDC for reopening, as the health agency would like hospitals to have enough room for any future increase in admissions if the infection rate increases in the fall or winter.

In hotspot testing sites, the number of positive tests was 1,038 out of close to 2,400 results, which brings the positive rate of testing to 43.2 percent. That is still above the rate of 35.3 percent for the rest of the county, but it is a narrowing of the gap, Bellone said.

Bellone’s office distributed 24,000 personal protective equipment yesterday, bringing the total to 3.2 million since the crisis began. Yesterday, the county received 6,250 Tyvec Coveralls from the Federal Emergency Management Association.

As the warmer weather reaches Long Island, the Suffolk County Police Department continues to monitor the activity of people who have been cooped up indoors for weeks, cooking meals, cleaning their homes, and taking care of their children and, to the extent they can, continuing to manage their jobs.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the volume is up in the parks and outside in general. “Overwhelmingly, people are in compliance” with social distancing guidelines, Hart said. “We’re hoping that’s what we’re going to see moving forward.”

Hart said the police will also continue to monitor any demonstrations in reaction to New York Pause, which is scheduled to end on May 15. She said if the police saw opportunities to provide face coverings to protestors or to remind them to maintain social distancing, the officers would do that.

Suffolk County Police commissioner Geraldine Hart alongside Steve Bellone. TBR News Media file photo

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart spoke by phone to TBR News Media about the ongoing police response to the pandemic.

TBR: How have you reassured people during the pandemic?

Hart: When the Governor issued the stay at home orders, that was the public perspective of uncertainty. Once we had a high visibility presence in our communities, a lot of the anxiety level started to dissipate. With the unexpected and uncertainty that was out there in the communities, we wanted to make sure we were still connecting, making sure we were still a visible presence to everybody, which includes different types of outreach. I have been on the phone with the Chambers of Commerce, making sure they understand all the efforts we are taking to make sure their businesses are safe.

TBR: What are you doing to protect businesses?

Hart: We are working on two fronts. We are getting the calls coming in through 311 to our department of people who are seeing businesses that are non compliant or who are seeing suspicious activity in those areas. Those numbers are high. We also have proactive policing in those areas. The order has gone out that [officers] need to proactively check on all these businesses. The officers know the precincts the best. They make sure they are dropping by businesses and making sure there is no disruption, no break ins, broken glass, nothing to indicate there’s been a break in. They are going to record that.

TBR: Crime has decreased.

Hart: It is true. It bears out. Commercial burglaries are down significantly since the March 22 order went into effect. The high visibility of police officers out in the precincts and on the streets is important and it’s paying off.

TBR: Is there anxiety among police officers?

Hart: From the beginning, we have messaged that it’s important to the department that we ensure the safety and health of the officers. By doing that, we’ll ensure the safety and health of our communities. We took steps looking back to January of making sure everyone has the [Personal Protective Equipment] they need.

TBR: How do officers protect themselves?

Hart: They have the n95 masks and they have the medical, surgical masks as well, with the understanding that the burn rate is high on these. The direction to them, if they are encountering someone who is confirmed COVID-19, they need to don the n95 mask. If they are taking someone into custody who has the potential [to be infected], they should have that individual wear a surgical mask so they are not infecting our officers.

TBR: If someone in custody gets in a car, should that person wear a mask?

Hart: if the prisoner is thought to have symptoms or exhibit any signs of COVID-19, they should be wearing a mask.

TBR: What about those people who are asymptomatic but infectious?

Hart: The hope is that they would wear a mask. The officers can’t social distance with a prisoner, even if they are asymptomatic. The guidance would be, if possible, have the prisoner wear a medical mask.

TBR: Have you been vigilant about domestic abuse as people remain confined to their homes?

Hart: Reports of domestic violence continue to receive the same response. It’s always a mandatory 911 … It’s always a priority in our department. In Suffolk County, [people can] text to 911, if they are near a person who is the offender and can’t make a phone call safely. We want to message that and get that out.

TBR: Have the police been on the lookout for any hate crimes in connection with the virus?

Hart: We have a very significant hate crimes unit, which has a number of detectives assigned to it. I met with them to see if there’s anything specific they need to bring to my attention. I haven’t seen that to date.

TBR: The rate of infection among Suffolk County police officers is considerably lower than in New York City, which reported a 20 percent infection rate. How has the Suffolk County Police Department kept that rate down?

Hart: New York City has its own challenges as far as the density of the population. They have challenges to deal with, versus Suffolk, where people are spread out.

TBR: What are the police doing to help the communities?

Hart: We are looking for all those opportunities. We initially, when the school shut down, were reporting to schools for breakfast and lunch curb side. We had our community officers there to help with that. We had never done that before. It wasn’t in place. We thought it was a good opportunity to get out in the community and help where we could.

TBR: Have officers raised any funds for groups or people who need it?

Hart: They are delivering meals, and the [Police Benevolent Associations] and unions went to hospitals with meals for health workers. All our organizations are plugged in, veterans and fraternal are doing it as well, as are Cops Who Care. We are making sure we are identifying those people who are in need with food and different things.

TBR: Do you have enough staff?

Hart: Each day, I’m briefed on staffing levels. We assess it. We have made adjustments accordingly. We have not been outside the patrol bureau. We don’t have to bring in other units. We are prepared to with a continuity of operations plan. If we see more infections [among officers], we will bring other commands.

TBR: How is the mental health of the officers?

Hart: We are making sure we are connecting. We have peer teams at each level. They have unions, a peer support team, which are critical. They are out there working together and are able to observe somebody who might be having a tough time in getting the support they need. There’s a great [resource] with EAP and Chaplain Program, led by Stephen Unger.

TBR: How are you doing?

Hart: We have pushed a lot of things to teleconferencing. We jam pack everything in [to the schedule]. I don’t have to travel anymore. It’s a fantastic command staff. Everybody really is working together. We say that as a cliche, but it’s absolutely true here. Chief [Stuart] Cameron is well versed in all sorts of terrorism situations and homeland security, active shooter training. We have tremendous resources and are coordinating a lot of efforts. All our division chiefs have a wealth of knowledge through many emergency situations. This one is different, bringing that experience, making sure we are sharing that information, with a priority of officer’s health and safety.

TBR: Has anyone in your command staff tested positive?

Hart: Nobody has. We are distancing even in our headquarters. When we have our staff meetings daily, we changed rooms. We are six feet apart. We have a contingency plan if chiefs go out sick. We’ve been healthy and distancing and taking all precautions we need to be effective.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during the Jan. 2 press conference. Photo by David Luces

The opioid epidemic has hit Long Island hard over the past few years, but according to an annual county report, fatal opioid-related deaths have decreased significantly over the past year. 

The Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel’s 2019 Report released Jan. 2 found that opioid deaths in 2019 were projected at 283, which was an approximate 25.5 percent decrease from the 2018 total of 380.

“We are moving in the right direction,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the chair of the panel, at the Jan. 2 press conference in Hauppauge. “The opioid crisis is costing Long Island upward of $8 billion a year in medical costs … that’s $22 million a day. Not only do we have to address the addiction issue, we have to also address mental health.”

“The opioid crisis is costing Long Island upward of $8 billion a year in medical costs … that’s $22 million a day. Not only do we have to address the addiction issue, we have to also address mental health.” 

– Sarah Anker

The 127-page report compiled by the 29-member panel highlights that the decreased numbers can be attributed to the increased use of Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of overdoses. 

Other highlights from the previous year includes the panel collaborating to help open a DASH Center, a 24/7 resource center for individuals in search of treatment and resources located at 90 Adams Ave., Hauppauge. The officials also purchased a mass spectrometer, a device that detects and breaks down the chemical compounds of drugs. The device is used to help track where drugs are coming from, making it easier to identify dealers.  

Geraldine Hart, Suffolk police commissioner, said the force is focusing on addressing the drug dealer situation.  

“We have seen a decrease in opiate usage but that is not enough,” she said. “We have a strategy that is taking hold, it involves enforcement, prevention, education and treatment.”

The panel’s report also lists resources for residents, including a number of counseling programs, agencies, drug treatment courts and law enforcement initiatives like Sharing Opioid Analysis & Research (SOAR). 

The panel was created in 2017 in response to the growing opioid and substance abuse epidemic in Suffolk County and across the nation.

While deaths have decreased, the number of overdoses increased 140 percent from 71 to 170.

While members of the panel said the decrease in number of fatal overdoses is a great sign, the increasing number of overdoses not resulting in death is something that requires more investigation.

Jeffery Reynolds, president of the Family and Children’s Association, said the new data is encouraging but stressed that more needs to be done. 

“These gains can sometimes be precarious — it took a long time for opioids to brew in this region, we were slow to respond in the region and nation, and we paid the price for it,” he said. “We gave heroin a 10-year head start. The last thing we want to do is declare victory prematurely.” 

Reynolds said there is still a need for a DASH/recovery center on the east end of Long Island and that panel wouldn’t stop working until “the overdose number is at zero.”  

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Suffolk County legislator and chair of the health committee, said it is also important to make sure the medical community is part of the solution. He mentioned there needs to be more research on genetic predisposition and environmental triggers relating to drug use.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but this is a major step [in the right direction],”Spencer said. 

Going into 2020, the panel will focus on addressing the following areas: the growing vaping epidemic, early education initiatives, childhood trauma intervention, possible marijuana legislation, the effects of recent bail reform laws, establishing a recovery high school, continuing overdose prevention discussions with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Long Island Rail Road, increasing prescriber education, reducing the stigma of addiction and mental illness and collaborating with the Native American Advisory Board and establishing a youth committee. 

Anker said collectively the panel is trying to be as productive as possible. 

“It [the epidemic] is always changing and evolving,” she said. “The ability for law enforcement to work with the medical community, education [professionals] to work with advocates — this cross pollination is so vital in making sure this panel is successful.”

Contact the DASH Center at 631-952-3333

 

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. File photo

Jurors rendered the verdicts Dec. 17 for former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and the head of his corruption bureau Christopher McPartland.

On the charge of conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.” On the charge of witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.” On the charge of obstruction of justice against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.”

The case revealed local corruption and cover-ups that required the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. Some officials, who have issued formal statements, say they are thrilled with the outcome, including current Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

“As we learned, the very people charged with upholding the law were the ones who were found guilty of assisting James Burke in his attempt to get away with his crime,” Hart stated. “Instead of being leaders and standing up for justice, they did their best to manipulate the system and everyone who stood in their way.”

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police detective and an often outspoken critic of the department, said he feels vindicated.

“It is unfortunate for the honest and dedicated cops that these men thought they were above the law and could get away with anything,” Trotta said. “Thanks to the great work of the United States Attorney’s Office and the diligence of the jury, justice will be served.”

“It is unfortunate for the honest and dedicated cops that these men thought they were above the law and could get away with anything,”

– Rob Trotta

Spota and McPartland were indicted in Oct. 2017 on federal charges for covering up the crimes of former police chief James Burke. In 2012, Burke, a St. James resident, was charged and convicted of assaulting Christopher Loeb, of Smithtown, who broke into Burke’s department-issued SUV that was parked in front of the former police chief’s home and stole a duffel bag allegedly containing a gun belt, ammunition, sex toys and pornography. Burke, according to prosecutors, beat Loeb inside the 4th Precinct station house in Hauppauge. After being sentenced to 46 months in prison, Burke was released Nov. 2018. He completed his sentence under house arrest in April 2019.

Both Hart and Trotta have suggested that related investigations continue.

“We have been monitoring this case closely and remain in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District,” Hart stated. “We are also in the process of reviewing all of the testimony and evidence presented at trial, and upon further review will take appropriate action if warranted.”

Trotta is particularly concerned about rooting out further corruption, an issue central to his 2019 reelection campaign.

“Unfortunately, this trial exposed that corruption continues in Suffolk County and hopefully the United States Attorney’s Office will continue its investigation into Suffolk’s widespread corruption problem,” Trotta stated. “It’s embarrassing that the DA, chief of corruption, chief of police, chair of the conservative party have all been arrested and found guilty in the past few years.”

However, Hart holds a more positive outlook.

“We want to assure members of the public that the current leadership of this department is committed to integrity, honesty and professionalism,” she stated. “I am continuously impressed by the work and level of commitment by our police officers and residents of this county should feel proud of their police department.

 

Suffolk County Police commissioner Geraldine Hart alongside Steve Bellone. TBR News Media file photo

As part of a two-week undercover sting operation dubbed “Operation Vape Out,” Suffolk Police found that more than two dozen business had been illegally selling e-cigarettes and tobacco to individuals under 21.

The operation, which occurred from Sept. 4 through Sept. 18. It resulted in 32 violations issued to employees of those businesses.

“After years of a steady decline in nicotine addiction and cigarette sales, the introduction of vaporizers has reversed this positive trend so that nicotine addiction is once again on the rise,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone (D). “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in Suffolk County. In a coordinated effort with the Suffolk County Police Department and the Department of Health, a sting operation uncovered 30 establishments that allegedly sold these products to minors and arrests have been made.”

In 2014, 73 percent of high school students and 56 percent of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some local businesses that were charged with the sale of e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine to persons under 21 were:

  • VaporFi, located at 229B Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset
  • Aroma Smoke Shop, 6 East Main St., Smithtown
  • Island Wood Cigars and Vapors, located at 298 Maple Ave., Smithtown
  • James Vape Shop, located at 448 Lake Ave., Saint James

The following businesses were charged with unlawfully dealing with a child 2nddegree:

  • 76 Gas, located at 1714 New York Ave., Huntington Station
  • The Barn, located at 2020 Jericho Turnpike, East Northport
  • Hemp Clouds , located at 1515 Route 25, Selden
  • Hookah City, located at 202 Main St., Port Jefferson

“The department will continue to target the issue of vaping with increased education and enforcement efforts,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. “We urge businesses to check IDs when selling vape products and abide by the ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes because we will continue to check for compliance.”

In addition, Bellone announced the expansion of the Health Department’s vaping prevention and intervention program, known as VAPE OUT!, by adding community youth vaping cessation classes. The program also includes peer and parent education forums and alternatives to suspension enforcement programs.

Over 200 high school students were trained as peer educators and they presented VAPE OUT! to over 1,840 middle school students, Bellone said in a statement.

 

DA displays material confiscated, "ghost" guns and heroin, during a recent bust.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and the Suffolk County Police Department announced Sept. 10 the indictment of a Sayville man in connection with an alleged operation to assemble “ghost guns,” which are untraceable by law enforcement, and the illegal possession of other weapons including machine guns, loaded handguns, high-capacity magazines and other ammunition and more than 800 bags of heroin. St. James resident, Leon Jantzer, was among three people indicted in the case. 

“This was a dangerous drug dealer assembling ghost weapons in a hotel room right here in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “Had it not been for the police officers’ vigilance, their keen investigative skills, and their bravery in entering that hotel room, there’s no doubt in my mind that these weapons would still be on the streets of Suffolk County.”

Christopher Swanson, 42, is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a B felony; two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, a C felony; 10 counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, a D felony; and attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, an E felony.

“I would like to commend the efforts of the 5th Precinct police officers who, while on routine patrol, stopped to investigate a vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot without a permit, which ultimately led to the discovery of a cache of untraceable guns that are extremely dangerous and put everyone’s lives at risk,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “We are making great strides working together with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to take guns and drugs off of our streets and we look forward to our continued partnership leading to more successes.”

At approximately 11:35 p.m. on Aug. 13, a police officer from the 5th precinct was on routine patrol when he observed a vehicle parked in a handicap parking spot without a permit at the Clarion Hotel, located at 3845 Veterans Memorial Highway in Ronkonkoma. The officer determined that the vehicle was a rental car that had been reported stolen after it was not returned to the rental company by Marcella Brako, 39, of Sayville.

Further investigation of the vehicle resulted in the recovery of mail addressed to Swanson. Fifth Precinct police officers determined that Swanson was staying in a room at the hotel and, after identifying themselves as police, were permitted to enter the room by Swanson. Swanson and Brako were inside the hotel room along with a third individual, Leon Jantzer, 42, of St. James.

Upon entering the room, police observed an assault rifle, two handguns, assorted high-capacity magazines and other ammunition and assorted gun parts, according to the DA’s report. One of the handguns was fully automatic, also known as a machine gun. Police also allegedly observed packaging materials consistent with drug sales, including glassine envelopes. A subsequent search warrant was obtained and resulted in the recovery of an additional quantity of ammunition, drug paraphernalia and more than 800 bags of heroin.

The firearms recovered had allegedly been purchased in parts and assembled by Swanson, resulting in their not being registered and not having serial numbers, otherwise known as ghost guns.

“It cannot be overstated how dangerous these ghost guns are, particularly when in the possession of a criminal,” Sini said. “These are homemade weapons built from parts purchased over the internet that are not registered with law enforcement and cannot be traced. They are designed to evade detection by law enforcement and are essentially made to be used in the commission of crimes.”

Swanson was arraigned on the indictment  by Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William J. Condon. Bail was set at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond. He is due back in court Oct. 8.

Brako was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substancee in the third degree, B felony, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in the third degree, an A misdemeanor.

Jantzer was found in possession of a quantity of heroin and was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, a misdemeanor. Jantzer’s attorney Brooke Janssen Breen has no comment about her client and the case and would confirm no details.  

If convicted of the top count, Swanson faces a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison.