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Police

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.

The coronavirus has so far claimed seven lives in Suffolk County as of March 20. Image from CDC

The number of fatalities from coronavirus Covid-19 more than doubled in the last day, as four more people died, including three people in their 90s in the Peconic Landing Medical Facility.

At the same time, positive tests for the respiratory virus have reached 459.

“Everything we’re doing is to keep that number down and keep it as low as possible,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters.

The positive tests include a member of the Suffolk County Police Department who works in the Highway Bureau, as well as a second member of Bellone’s staff, Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen. The positive test means that Bellone, who was under voluntary quarantine, is now under mandatory quarantine at his home.

Bellone described the police officer as a male in his 50s who lives in Nassau County. The officer is expected to make a full recovery, he said.

The county executive reiterated the importance for the community to stay home and remain isolated as much as possible.

“Young people may not believe the virus is something that impacts them,” he said, but it has locally as well as nationally.

Indeed, among those with a positive test for the virus, 50 of them are in their 20’s, while 50 are in their 30’s. About half of all the infections are among people who are in their 40’s and 50’s.

To reduce the spread of the virus, Bellone yesterday closed all playgrounds in county parks, even as the parks remain open.

“We close the playgrounds because what we found is that it’s very difficult to keep kids apart,” Bellone said.

Health officials urge people to maintain social distancing of over six feet in those public spaces.

The county also closed dog parks because of the crowding at those areas as well.

“People can bring dogs to parks on leashes and are able to be out there in the open space while practicing social distancing with their pets,” Bellone said.

Even as the new Stony Brook University mobile testing site has increased the ability to test, residents has met some of the pent=up demand to understand the extent of the presence of the virus in their areas. Suffolk, like so many counties others across the nation, is still confronting a potential shortage of supplies of personal protective equipment.

“This has been challenging,” Bellone said. “A lack of supplies or PPE is close behind the testing in something we’ve been lacking on a national basis.”

Bellone’s office is working to accept donations of personal protective equipment in industries that have excess equipment that they can spare. The priority remains to protect people at the front lines in this battle, the county executive urged.

Bellone encouraged residents to go to Newsday’s web site, newsday.com/business, which alerts customers and the community that some businesses remain open. In light of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) decision to reduce businesses to essential services starting on Sunday, those businesses would need to meet that stringent threshold.

Supermarkets have created morning hours when seniors can do their shopping. Seniors can shop at the following morning stores during the following hours: Dollar General, from 8 to 9 a.m., Stu Leonard’s, from 730 to 8, Stop & Shop, from 6:30 to 7:30, Uncle Giuseppe’s, from 7 to 8, Target from 8 to 9 on Wednesday, Giunta’s Meat Farms, from 6:30 to 7:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Walmart, from 6 to 7 on Wednesday.

Bellone addressed concerns about empty shelves at some of these stores. He assured the public that supplies remain robust and that some shelves are empty as residents horde items they are concerned might not be available during the crisis.

“There is no need to be concerned,” Bellone said. “Critical products will be there on the shelves. I would encourage people not to buy items in bulk.”

In the realm of child care for first responders, Bellone said first responders and health care providers can reach out to the Child Care Counsel of Suffolk to schedule care for their children. The phone number is 646-926-3784.

In the meantime, Suffolk County has reached out to retired first responders and health care providers as the anticipated increase in demand, and potential for more positive tests among those helping the public, triggers the need for more help.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Bellone said. “There’s no part of this government that’s not involved in this operation or response. It’s like calling in the reserves. People will need to step up.”

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University Hospital said in a release it currently had enough personal protective equipment to meet the needs of every staff member coming into contact with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19.

The hospital is working to find additional supplies. Hospital officials expect supplies of personal protective equipment to become strained as the pandemic evolves and is reviewing alternative practices to protect the staff.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory canceled or postponed all programs that invite visitors to campus. The research center has also restricted education, research and administrative operations.

Employees are required to work remotely or adjust their schedules if they support mission-critical research or facilities, to lower the number of people on site. The lab expects the restrictions to last for at least the next month.

The DNA Learning Center has canceled education programs starting March 16 for middle and high school programs on Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester County. Public programming including campus tours, lectures and concerts have also been canceled since March 8.

File photo

Police said an East Setauket woman, who had been trying to assist people involved in a separate crash in Islandia, was struck and killed by a passing vehicle the morning of Monday, March 2.

Suffolk County Police said a 2005 Toyota was rear-ended by a 2002 Toyota on eastbound Suffolk Avenue, west of Casement Avenue, at around 5:40 a.m. Jennifer Burgess, 36, of East Setauket, who was not involved in the crash, stopped to render assistance to the involved drivers.

A 2014 Toyota and a 2003 Chevrolet then struck the 2005 Toyota, causing Burgess to step into the westbound lane of Suffolk Avenue where she was struck by a 2018 Honda.

Burgess was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore where she was pronounced dead.

The driver of the Honda, Chris Cardinale, 59, of St. James, was not injured.

The Honda was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 3rd Squad at 631-854-8352.

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Kenneth Regan, of Centereach, has been charged with murder on a New Jersey interstate.
Photo from Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office

Centereach man Kenneth Regan, 21, was charged with alleged murder, attempted murder and various weapon offenses in New Jersey last Thursday after a week-long investigation by that state’s detectives. He was charged alongside an Eastport man, Douglas Coudrey.

New Jersey State Police said they responded to a 911 call Jan. 18 at around 12:15 a.m. reporting shots fired on Interstate 80 West in Lodi, New Jersey. Responding police said they found a vehicle in the middle lane with the driver, 27-year-old Luis Perez of the Bronx in the driver seat with gun shots to his neck and chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Two other passengers, also of the Bronx, were in the car, and one is in critical but stable condition and the other was uninjured.

The investigation brought investigators to Coudrey’s Eastport residence, and when police tried to stop Coudrey, Regan and a third male in their vehicle, the alleged perpetrators fled, crashed into a fence and were subsequently arrested. Police later found a .22 caliber rifle modified to be used as a submachine gun and a sawed-off shotgun.

Both men were charged in New Jersey. Suffolk County police and the district attorney’s office were said to have aided in the investigation and apprehension of the alleged perpetrators.

Attorney information for both men was not available.

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File photo.

Suffolk County Police said a man was killed in Port Jefferson Station early this morning in a single vehicle crash.

Cops said Joel Almanzar, 35, of Port Jefferson Station was driving a 2014 BMW sedan on Green Avenue, off Bicycle Path, when the vehicle veered off the roadway, hit a parked car and continued through a fence before striking a tree and a shed at around 1:30 a.m., Jan. 30.

Almanzar was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A Gofundme for Almanzar has already raised just shy of $1,500 for what is described as the man’s funeral costs and his only son, Niko.

Geoffrey Girnun hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Photo supplied by Geoffrey Girnun for a previous article

Federal prosecutors announced Jan. 14 that Geoffrey Girnun, 49, a former professor at Stony Brook University, has pled guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds from cancer-related research grants.

At federal court in Central Islip, Girnun, of Woodmere, pled guilty to stealing $225,000 in those grant funds. The ex-professor issued fraudulent invoices for research equipment to SBU from sham companies he created to conceal his theft of funds from cancer-related research grants issued by the National Institutes of Health and SBU. Prosecutors said this went to pay for things like Girnun’s mortgage.

Prosecutors said Girnun faces up to 10 years in prison as well as restitution, forfeiture and a fine, which are all to be determined by the judge at that time.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donaghue said the ex-professor is being held responsible.

“With today’s guilty plea, Girnun has been held accountable for his unconscionable scheme to embezzle for his personal use hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds that were intended to help find a cure for cancer,” he said in a release.

The professor had been arrested in September last year and was charged in a seven-count indictment with theft of state and federal government funds, wire fraud and money laundering. 

Girnun was featured in a March 25, 2015, TBR News Media article. At the time, the researcher was exploring the role of different proteins that either promote or prevent various cancers. The one particular protein in the liver cell he was studying is one that classically regulates the cell cycle, according to the article.

Girnun discovered that the protein promotes how the liver produces sugar, in the form of glucose, to feed organs such as the brain under normal conditions. In diabetic mice, the protein goes back to its classic role as a cell cycle regulator.

Girnun made the move to SBU from the University of Maryland in 2013 and said at the time he was inspired by the opportunity to create something larger.

“I want to build a program in cancer metabolism,” he said. “I want to build something beyond my own lab.”

An attorney for Girnun did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

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Police said a woman was hit and killed Sunday night in Shoreham after she allegedly was crossing over Route 25A.

Suffolk County Police said in a statement a yet-to-be-named adult female was crossing westbound in front of the Rocky Point Fire Department at 49 Route 25A, Jan. 12, when she was struck by a 2018 Hyundai SUV at around 6:10 p.m. The woman was transported to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson where she died from her injuries.

The driver of the Hyundai, Paula Avent, 36, of Rocky Point, was alone in her vehicle and not injured.

The event is under investigation why the woman was crossing the road. The Hyundai was impounded for a safety check.

This story will be updated when the name of the woman is released.

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By Monica Gleberman

Comsewogue district officials took extra precautions after a non-life-threatening statement required the removal of a high school student Monday morning.

At 11 a.m. Monday morning, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn sent out a robocall alerting the community there was an incident at the high school that required immediate attention.

“Many of you are at work, but I just want to share some information with you because I think you’ll be hearing about it,” she said. “We had a student at the high school who made a comment that we took very seriously, it concerned us.”

Although Quinn did not go into details about the comment or the student, she did say there was no damage done to the school and none of the students were in immediate danger.

Within minutes of the call, parents began posting on social media with concerns about what happened and asking for more details from the district. School board President John Swenning responded with a post online, “all is safe at the [high school]. A comment was taken seriously, and action was taken. There was no immediate threat to any students or staff.”

In a private message, when asked if the board of education would make an official comment, Swenning said all comments are taken as “true threats” and the district followed protocol which included getting the Suffolk County Police Department involved.

The SCPD confirmed the incident in a statement via email Monday afternoon, adding that the student involved in the investigation made the “statement” in question on Friday, December 13, which the district was made aware of Monday, December 16.

In the email, the SCPD wrote, “The statement could have been perceived as a threat. The student was taken for evaluation and an investigation determined there was never a threat to the students or the faculty.”

Swenning praised the district and the police for their help. “Kudos to [the] administration and SCPD for their quick response.”

At the end of the school day, the administrators put up an alert on the district’s website with an update from Quinn. The new information included that the school psychologist was called in to help with the student once the administrators were made aware of the incident. Additionally, there were no weapons discovered on school premises and “[to the] best to our knowledge, the student did not have access to any,” the alert stated. “The student will not be attending school until we are confident that they are not a threat. Furthermore, appropriate discipline is being taken. Please be assured that the safety and welfare of all of our students and staff is always our number one concern.”

This post will be updated when more information becomes available.

A mugshot of Charles Titone, who police said sexually abused a 6-year old and possessed child porn. Photo from SCPD

Police arrested a school bus driver early on Tuesday, Dec. 3 for alleged sexual abuse and possessing child pornography. The man drove a bus in the Northport-East Northport School District.

Police, which included the members 2nd precinct, along with computer crimes and special victims sections, said they launched an investigation into Charles Titone III, 46, following a tip from the New York State Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Police said investigators executed a search warrant at Titone’s home, located at 250 Depot Road in Huntington Station, early in the morning and arrested Titone at around 7:30 a.m. for allegedly having sexual contact with a 6-year-old and possessing child pornography on his phone. Titone is a school bus driver for Huntington Station-based Huntington Coach Corp. and drives in the Northport-East Northport school district.

Titone was charged with sexual abuse 1st degree and possessing a sexual performance by a child.

The victim was someone previously known to Titone and not a student from his bus route, police said.

Attorney information for Titone was not immediately available.

Titone is being held overnight at the second precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 4 at First District Court in Central Islip.

The investigation is continuing. Police said detectives are asking anyone with information to contact the Computer Crimes Unit at 631-852-6279 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS.

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Suffolk County police car. File photo

A Mount Sinai man was arrested Thursday, Nov. 14 for allegedly shooting at a neighbor’s cats with a pellet gun, one of which led the cat to need to be euthanized.

Suffolk County Police said a resident of Puritan Drive in Mount Sinai noticed one of his cats was walking with a limp in early September and a veterinarian determined it had been shot with a pellet gun. The cat was euthanized. The resident called police Nov. 14 at around 9 a.m. after he noticed two of his other cats were limping and a veterinarian determined they also had been shot. The cats are being treated for injuries.

Following an investigation, police determined the victim’s neighbor, Clifford Nagel, 72, of 27 Puritan Ave., shot the three cats with a pellet gun. Suffolk County Police and the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arrested Nagel at his home.

6th Precinct officers and detectives from the SCSPCA charged Nagel with three counts of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals, a class E Felony under the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. Nagel was issued a desk appearance ticket and is scheduled for arraignment at a later date.

Attorney information for Nagel was not immediately available.