Photo credit: Handout | Bernard Cooks, of Southampton, and Mohammed Proctor, of Riverhead, had been serving prison sentences for felony possession of a controlled substance. (May 25, 2012)

7 Southampton drug cases vacated


In a Jan. 19, 2011, raid of an alleged crack house, Southampton’s Street Crime Unit arrested Kwame Opoku, Bernard Cooks, Nathaniel Cooper and Karron Whidbee. Officers seized about 10 grams of crack cocaine, a small quantity of marijuana, prescription pills and drug scales. Each of the men arrested would later be convicted or plead guilty to drug charges.

But after Officer Eric Sickles acknowledged he was addicted to prescription drugs, those four men and three others arrested in separatecases by the Street Crime Unit had their convictions overturned by judges at the request of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Newsday made a formal request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law to Spota’s office seeking records from his review of the cases and investigation of the Southampton Town Police Department. That request was denied. A DA spokesman declined to comment.

Here are the vacated convictions:

- Kwame Opoku, 32, who was living at the Southampton house when it was raided, served six months in prison for drug possession charges, according to a civil case he filed in federal court. When his convictions were overturned in July 2012, he was still serving prison time on unrelated charges. He was released Aug. 21, according to court records. Opoku's lawsuit against Southampton is still pending. The Opoku civil suit says Sickles performed warrantless searches of Opoku’s home, falsely arrested him, fabricated evidence and gave false testimony during a grand jury proceeding.

- Bernard Cooks, 32, of Southampton, was convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 years in prison. He was released in May 2012. He filed a lawsuit in federal court in May against the town, the county and their police departments, alleging he was falsely accused of criminal possession of a controlled substance and imprisoned without probable or reasonable cause. The Cooks case is proceeding in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. Judge Leonard Wexler granted a confidentiality request by the defendants in October that will keep many of the documents and information produced during discovery in the case from becoming public.

- Nathaniel Cooper, 34, whose most recent publicly available address was in Mastic Beach, pleaded guilty to felony attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance and was given a 9-month sentence, records show. He was released in the summer of 2012. He has filed a notice of claimwith Southampton Town, which is considered a precursor to a lawsuit.

- Karron D. Whidbee, 31, of Sag Harbor, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of drug possession. He was not jailed as a result of thecharges. The charges were dismissed in 2012.

- Mohammed Proctor, 37, of Riverhead, was arrested on April 21, 2010, by Southampton police and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana, two counts of using drug paraphernalia in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child. He pleaded guilty on July 13, 2011, and began serving a 2- to 4-year sentence on Oct. 18. On May 25, 2012, his conviction was vacated. In April 2013, his lawsuit — in which he claimed police removed a bag of cocaine from his rectum without a warrant — was dismissed by a federal judge.

- Christopher Rionero, 34, of Islip Terrace, was arrested on July 4, 2010, for selling cocaine to an undercover officer at the Coliseum, a Southampton nightclub. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail, according to court records. The charges, of third-degree criminal sale of acontrolled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, were dismissed on March 21, on a motion from the Suffolk County district attorney, according to his notice of claim he filed against Southampton. Rionero is serving jail time in an upstate prison on separate drug charges, according to state records. His notice of claim against the town, Suffolk County and the district attorney's office claims he was falsely arrested and detained.

- Romaine Hopkins, 31, of Riverside, was arrested in a car stop in May 2010. He was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and had a prior warrant, police said. His conviction was overturned this past spring.