Tags Posts tagged with "Suffolk Police"

Suffolk Police

 

Hundreds of people gathered in Port Jefferson Station Tuesday to mourn the loss of Suffolk County Police Department Lt. Robert Van Zeyl, the county’s first active duty officer to die from COVID-19.

Van Zeyl lost his life Jan. 20 after testing positive for the virus Jan. 3. He was hospitalized a week later. 

Members from the law enforcement community joined Van Zeyl’s family to say goodbye with a full military-style precession featuring police motorcycles, pipes and drums, and an American flag arched by two fire trucks.

Uniformed officers who came out from as far as Manhattan saluted the decorated casket as it drove up to St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church on Terryville Road.

“It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of an exceptional member of our law enforcement family, Lieutenant Robert Van Zeyl,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “Lieutenant Van Zeyl’s more-than three decades of exemplary service are a testament to his commitment to public service, and even in the midst of a global pandemic, he was on the frontlines every day helping residents in need. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Van Zeyl family during this difficult time.”

Van Zeyl joined the Suffolk County Police Department in February 1985 and served in the 5th Precinct in Patchogue upon graduation from the academy. In 1994, he was promoted to sergeant and then lieutenant in 2003. 

He served as the commanding officer of the Applicant Investigation Section and the Administrative Services Bureau before transferring to the 2nd Precinct in the Town of Huntington in 2015 where he worked until his death.

“Bob was a wonderful person, a dedicated member of our department, and a pleasure to know both personally and professionally,” Inspector William Scrima, 2nd Precinct commanding officer, said in a statement. “He was a person who genuinely enjoyed his work and was liked by people of all ranks who knew him and worked with him. He will be truly missed by this department and by the 2nd Precinct in particular.” 

During his more than three-decade career, Van Zeyl received more than a dozen recognitions for his contributions to the police department including two Cop of the Month honors and the Excellent Police Duty Award for amassing 12 or more self-initiated DWI arrests in a single year.

The Selden resident leaves behind two children, Hailey and Tyler, and his ex-wife Christine Zubrinic.

“Lieutenant Van Zeyl was really just a fighter the whole way,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said after the ceremony. “He was out in the frontlines battling for his communities, his whole career was dedicated to service and today we say goodbye to him. I know that his family will always be with us. For his beautiful daughter Hailey and son Tyler, this has such a difficult time for them, and we just really want them to know that we’re here for them.”

“They will always remember their dad, who was really a hero, and will always be remembered by this department,” the commissioner said.

Hart added that during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, 87 SCPD officers tested positive for the virus. Van Zeyl’s death is the first.

He was 60 years old.

Crime Stoppers now offering $5,000 reward for info that leads to arrest

Suffolk police continue to search for the man who killed Albert Luis Lopez Rodriguez in 2018. Luz Lopez, Rodriguez’ mother and Jason Rodriguez speak at a press conference July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

The family of Albert Luis Lopez Rodriguez, a Selden man who was shot and killed last year in a Port Jefferson billiards hall, wailed and sobbed on the anniversary of his death, knowing that his killer was still out there.

“It does hurt a lot, he was my oldest brother,” Jason Rodriguez said at a conference held at Suffolk County Police headquarters in Yaphank July 22. “He never looked for any trouble … everything he did was for his family.”

Rodriguez, 27, was killed, according to police, after an argument and altercation at Billiards DBM in Upper Port July 22, 2018. Alejandro Vargas-Diaz, 36, who also goes by Papujo, Alejandro deVargas-Diaz and Robin Vargas allegedly had an argument with Rodriguez which ended in Vargas-Diaz shooting Rodriguez three times before escaping out the front door of the billiards hall. The victim allegedly was aquinted with the suspect, and was a father of three children, now aged two, seven and nine.

Police-obtained video of the billiards hall shows the place was lightly populated the night of the murder. Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Rodriguez was at the billiards hall with one of his brothers, his cousin and girlfriend. They would not specify on the precise nature of the argument between the two men. Both men hail from Sabana Iglesia in the Dominican Republic.

Family members at the press conference held signs reading “No Peace,” shouting there would be no peace until their family member’s murderer was found. Luz Lopez, Rodriguez’ mother, could hardly hold back tears as she spoke.

“My heart is broken,” she said. “I will only have peace knowing the guy is in jail.”

Police have had little luck in finding Vargas-Diaz. Directly after the murder, the suspect fled the building, and was next spotted two hours later in Jamaica, Queens, near the train station. The murder weapon, a pistol, was found in the woods nearby in Port Jefferson.

Police sent a detective to the Dominican Republic to work with local police officials in that country, though police said they did not currently know where precisely Vargas-Diaz could be, adding he has family in Brooklyn, Queens, Paramus and Patterson, New Jersey and Hartford, Connecticut. Police said the suspect did not have an arrest record, and that he has had residency status in the U.S., but that has since expired. He was also known to frequent barbershops and pool halls in the area.

“There is a feeling by some in the community this was an accident,” Hart said. “It was no accident. It was an intentional murder.”

The family spent the anniversary of Rodriguez’s murder at his gravesite in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Center Moriches. With emotions mixing between stern and devastating sadness, the family said they will not be content until their family member’s killer is found.

“There’s no way he can hide from this,” Jason Rodriguez said.

 

File photo

Kenneth Pellegrino was arrested after drugs, fireworks and weapons were seized from his Sound Beach home, following a search warrant executed by Suffolk County Police.

During the May 3 search, $7,000 worth of fireworks, 110 grams of heroin worth about $26,000, 75 grams of crack/cocaine worth approximately $4,500, 33 grams of marijuana and more than $1,800 in cash were found. A shotgun, digital scales, cell phones and drug packaging material were also seized.

Pellegrino, 42, was charged with three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, unlawfully dealing in fireworks and unlawfully storing fireworks.

“This is part of our enhanced narcotics strategy where we are cracking down on drug dealing in our communities,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “What’s important to note about this search warrant is that it began with calls to our 631-852-NARC line. We were able to get drugs off the street and a shotgun off the street that belonged to a drug dealer, and we were able to do that because of the assistance of the residents of Suffolk County.”

Pellegrino will be held overnight at the Seventh Precinct for arraignment at 1st District Court in Central Islip.

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials took action Thursday night following a threat to one of their schools.

On March 16, an anonymous text message to a student in the early morning threatened that “something might occur” at the high school March 17. The student who received the text reported it to district administrators,  who put in place procedures, which entailed searching lockers and school bags in addition to adding overnight security, upon hearing the news of the threat.

“We had a good plan in place to ensure the safety of our students,” superintendent Neil Lederer said. “Fortunately, we didn’t have to implement it because we identified the individual late last night.”

The student who sent the text will receive “appropriate consequences.”

“At this point there is no threat and the situation has been successfully resolved,” Lederer said in a letter on the school district’s website. “We take very seriously the potential threat to the safety of our schools and immediately notified the Suffolk County Police Department. The health, safety and welfare of our students and staff are always out main priority. Please know that every precaution is taken on a daily basis to protect the safety of our students and staff and to provide a secure learning environment for all.”

Back in January, the high school was also informed of an Instagram threat. The student was immediately identified and disciplinary measures were also administered in that case. Authorities were also notified and involved in the investigation in that case. It is unclear whether the two incidents are at all related.

Lederer did not respond to questions for comment.

The Suffolk County Police Department has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Updates will follow when more information is available.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on right, gets signatures from residents in support of the Community Protection Act outside Stop & Shop in Miller Place. Photo from County Executive Bellone's office

By Kevin Redding

In light of recent court rulings and pending lawsuits in favor of sex offenders, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is urging the New York State Legislature to follow in the county’s footsteps and get tough on sex criminals by passing legislation that gives the county authorization to uphold its strict laws against them.

On Feb. 11, Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spoke with parents and residents in Miller Place about supporting and protecting the rules within the Suffolk County Community Protection Act — a private-public partnership law developed by Bellone, victims’ rights advocates like Parents for Megan’s Law and law enforcement agencies. It ensures sex offender registration and compliance, and protects residents and their children against sexual violence — much to the dismay of local sex offenders, who have been suing the county to try to put a stop to the act.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker talk to residents about the Community Protection Act. Photo from County Executive Bellone’s office

“We’re encouraging people to go on to our Facebook page and sign the online petition,” Bellone said. “We want to get as many signatures as we can to communicate to our partners in the state that this is a priority that we pass legislation that makes it clear Suffolk County has the right to continue doing what it’s doing to protect our community against sex offenders.”

While the county executive said Suffolk representative have been supportive of the law, which was put in place four years ago, he wanted to make sure they’re armed with grassroots support to convince state colleagues they have a substantial evidence to prove it’s popularity and show it’s the right thing to do.

Since it was enacted in 2013, the Community Protection Act has been the nation’s strictest sex offender enforcement, monitoring and verification program, cracking down on all three levels of offenders when it comes to their proximity to a school facility or child-friendly area, and reducing sex offender recidivism in Suffolk County by 81 percent. Ninety-eight percent of Level 2 and more than 94 percent of Level 3 registrants are in compliance with photograph requirements, what Bellone said is a significant increase from before the law took effect.

Through its partnership with Parents for Megan’s Law, the county has conducted more than 10,000 in-person home verification visits for all levels of sex offenders, by sending retired law enforcement to verify sex offenders’ work and home addresses and make sure their registry is accurate and up to date. More than 300 sex offenders have also been removed from social media under the law.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, the act is a critical piece of legislation.

“The program has been incredibly successful, which is why sex offenders don’t like it.”

—Steve Bellone

“The numbers don’t lie, there’s a lot of hard evidence and data that shows this act has done precisely what it was designed to do: monitor sex offenders and make sure they’re not doing anything they’re not supposed to be doing,” Deputy Commissioner Justin Meyers said. “To date, I have never met a single resident in this county who didn’t support [it].”

Besides the sex offenders themselves, that is.

The act has made Suffolk County one of the more difficult places for registered sex offenders to live and, since its inception, Suffolk sex offenders have deemed its strict level of monitoring unconstitutional, arguing, and overall winning their cases in court that local law is not allowed to be stricter than the state law.

In 2015, the state Court of Appeals decided to repeal local residency restriction laws for sex offenders, claiming local governments “could not impose their own rules on where sex offenders live.”

In the prospective state legislation, Bellone hopes to close the sex offender loophole that would allow high-level sex offenders to be able to legally move into a home at close proximity to a school.

“The program has been incredibly successful, which is why sex offenders don’t like it,” Bellone said. “This is what we need to do to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect kids and families in our community. As a father of three young kids, this is very personal to me and I think that while we’ve tried to make government more efficient and reduce costs here, this is an example of the kind of thing government should absolutely be spending resources on.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on right, with a community member who signed his petition urging state lawmakers to uphold the Community Protection Act. Photo from County Executive Bellone’s office

To conduct all the monitoring and fund educational resources offered to the community by Parents for Megan’s Law — teaching parents what to look out for and how to prevent their children from becoming victims — costs roughly $1 million a year, according to Bellone.

In addition to the residential restriction, Bellone is calling on the state to authorize the county to verify the residency and job sites of registered sex offenders, authorize local municipalities to keep a surveillance on homeless sex offenders, who represent less than 4 percent of the offender population in Suffolk County, and require them to call their local police department each night to confirm where they’re staying, and require an affirmative obligation of all sex offenders to cooperate and confirm information required as part of their sex offender designation.

“If people really knew this issue, I couldn’t see how they would oppose the Community Protection Act, because sex offenders are not a common criminal; there’s something fundamentally and psychologically wrong with somebody who commits sexual crime and we as a society have to understand that,” said St. James resident Peter , who held a “Protect Children” rally in the area last years. “Residents should know that the sexual abuse of children is out of control.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls are abused and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

“It is imperative that we, not only as a community, but as a state, make efforts to further ensure the safety of our children from sexual predators,” Anker said. “We must do everything in our power to ensure that this law is upheld and that’s why I’ve joined [Bellone] in calling on the New York State Legislature to consider an amendment to grant the county the ability to uphold it.”

To sign the petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/new-york-state-protect-our-children-support-the-community-protection-act.

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Police officers and firefighters from the Mount Sinai Fire Department rescued three hunters after their boat capsized in Mount Sinai Harbor the morning of Jan. 22.

James Knipe and his son, also named James, along with Kendrick Pisano, were duck hunting in a boat in Mount Sinai Harbor when their vessel took on water and overturned. After the three entered the water, they clung to the overturned boat and the elder Knipe, 47, called 911 on his cell phone.

Suffolk Police notified the United States Coast Guard and the Mount Sinai Fire Department. When Sixth Precinct officers arrived on scene, they observed all three clinging to the overturned boat and holding onto life jackets. Members of the Mount Sinai Fire Department launched an inflatable vessel and rescued the younger Knipe, 17, and Pisano, 16, from the water. Suffolk Police Marine Bureau Officers John Castorf and Christopher DeFeo, aboard Marine November, pulled James Knipe from the water.

All three victims were brought to the boat ramp and transported to local hospitals for treatment of exposure and hypothermia. Pisano, of Miller Place, was taken to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson and the Knipes, of Middle Island, were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Marine Bureau officers recovered and secured the vessel, the victims’ belongings and three shotguns from the harbor.

The water temperature at the time of the incident was approximately 45 degrees. The Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau reminds boaters and hunters that New York State Law requires that personal flotation devices be worn at all times on vessels less than 21 feet in length, from November 1 to May 1.

Kids play with Nerf guns and dodgeballs with the local officers as part of Police Unity Night. Photo by Kevin Redding

Officers within the Suffolk County Police Department replaced their handguns and black shoes with Nerf blasters and orange “sky socks” Jan. 4 for a night of bouncy Nerf battles with local kids at Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai.

When the officers and kids weren’t crouched behind inflatable bunkers dodging foam darts, together they dodged balls in “dodge-a-cop” matches, shot basketballs and leaped into a giant pit full of foam cubes.

Suffolk County 6th Precinct Crime Section Officer Anthony Napolitano prepares to hurl a dodgeball. Photo by Kevin Redding

SCPD’s young friends were even invited to sit in the front and back seats of the patrol cars, were shown how to turn on the sirens and lights and were allowed to use the car’s PA speaker.

Donned Police Unity Night, the event will take place the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. It started as a one-night dodgeball event over the summer by Sky Zone Director of Events Nicole Tumilowicz, as a way of showing support for SCPD and helping bridge the relationship between law enforcement and the people it serves.

It was such a big hit among the community, she said, she and her organization decided to host the event in collaboration with community liaison officers from the 3rd and 6th Precincts on a monthly basis in Mount Sinai. Events are also hosted with local police departments at the Sky Zone in Deer Park. Officers and their own children always jump for free, and each month the event will feature food donations from a different local business.

For $20, families poured into the popular indoor park for two hours of fun, community camaraderie and food — Brooklyn Bagels & Cafe of Rocky Point served sandwiches, bagels and cookies.

“This is our way of giving back and really getting involved,” Tumilowicz said. “We want to get the community together, have fun, increase police relations and give our guests a chance to interact with [the SCPD] on a different level and see them in a different light. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Sixth Precinct Community Liaison Officer Casey Hines, a former social worker who frequently speaks on public safety at local school districts, and has partnered with Sky Zone in training its staff on what to do in dangerous situations, said it’s important to her that the public isn’t intimidated and guarded when it comes to interacting with the police.

She wants people to know their names and see them as people they can go to for help.

“When these kids have a problem or they have somebody bullying them or they just need somebody to talk to, I want them to feel they can say ‘you know, I’m gonna call Casey about this and see what she says,’” Hines said. “It’s wonderful to be able to have a rapport with the community in a positive environment.”

Children goof around with cops outside Sky Zone in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding

She’s also having fun.

“We’re jumping, and defenses are down [here],” she said. “The kids and parents know that we’re here to help them.”

Officer Todd Bradshaw, of the 6th Precinct’s Community Oriented Police Enforcement unit, echoed Hines’s feelings when reminiscing about the dodgeball event over the summer.

“I remember a few of the kids — one or two in particular — were really kind of nervous and taken aback by the fact that police were there playing dodgeball and bouncing with them,” he said. “But after a while, they saw us being goofy and loosening up, and then they felt comfortable smiling next to us and playing with us and then wailing dodgeballs at us. They realized we were approachable.”

Eufrasia Rodriguez, from Rocky Point, shared the Police Unity Night post on Facebook, and in doing so, wound up winning a free ticket for her son Justice, a 14-year-old boy with autism.

“I shared it because we have a charity called Justice 4 Autism and we figured this would be a great opportunity for kids to play with and meet the police,” Rodriguez said. “Justice was so excited to come and meet the police and jump. On our way here we heard police sirens and he was like ‘is that them?’”

Her son was quick to run up and take a picture with 6th Precinct Crime Section Officer Anthony Napolitano at the entrance.

“They’re all a bunch of good kids,” said Napolitano. “This means a lot to them; so hopefully it keeps them off the streets and inside.”

6th Precinct Community Liaison Officer Casey Hines talks to kids. Photo by Kevin Redding

Cameron Tyburski, a 12-year-old from Shoreham-Wading River Middle School, came to the event with some of his classmates.

“It’s great because there’s free food and I showed some of the cops how to do front flips,” Tyburski said.

“I feel protected,” Amanda Lahey, 12, said.

Kelly Riess, 12, whose dad is a cop, said this was her second time at one of the events.

“It’s really fun, and it’s great to go around and meet the cops and all the families,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea to do this.”

To end the night, in Sky Zone’s largest trampoline-covered arena, Hines and fellow officer Jennifer Mackey led their team of kids into a full-fledged Nerf war against Napolitano and his own group. Bouncing back and forth between trampolines, taking cover and loading up on foam darts in between shots, Hines’s “red team” took the victory.

“You can’t walk out of here without a huge smile on your face and feel awesome, it’s just great,” Hines said. “There’s nothing like having these little kids running up to you and being like ‘I shot you’ or ‘you got me … can you play again?’ It’s them just being real with us, and I love it.”