Southampton cop defends self in scandal

Originally published: June 3, 2013 9:53 PM Updated: June 3, 2013 10:10 PM By DAVID M. SCHWARTZ

The cop at the center of the Southampton Town police department turmoil says he is subjected to "continued harassment" and contends the former police chief improperly tried to get him to use his political position "to get things he wanted" from the town board.

Lt. James Kiernan, who supervised the town's now-defunct Street Crime Unit, made his remarks in a May 13 letter to the town board. It was his first personal response to former police chief William Wilson's allegations that Kiernan received special treatment because of his political position.

In the letter, Kiernan defended his role as police officer and member of the town's Republican committee, which screens candidates for town board.

"As a citizen of the United States of America I have certain rights that are protected by the constitution," he wrote. "One of my rights is to affiliate myself with any political activities that I see fit in accordance with election law.

"I have never asked for, hinted at, or even suggested to any political leader that I receive any type of benefit from my position in the Republican Party," he wrote. "I earned every promotion."

Kiernan wrote his position as one of more than 80 committee members "is considered a very minor one."

Seven men convicted of selling drugs on the East End -- on the basis of investigations by Kiernan's unit -- have had their convictions dismissed, following a Suffolk County district attorney probe into cases handled by the street crimes unit.

Kiernan was suspended last year, in part for his supervision of the unit, but was reinstated at his full rank in November by the town board over Wilson's objections. He retired late last year.

Kiernan's letter, obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information request, was directed at a proposed change in the town's ethics law that bars law officers from being political committee members or party officers. The proposal passed, 4-1.

Kiernan said Wilson asked him to use his political position with the town board but did not specify in the letter how. He called Wilson's alleged request a violation of election law and civil service law.

Kiernan's attorney, Ray Perini of Hauppauge, did not respond yesterday to a request for Kiernan to detail those claims.

"It was my refusal to help him in this way that caused him to lie about me and create bogus evidence to support those lies," Kiernan wrote.

Wilson disputed the claims.

He said Monday the first time Kiernan brought up his political clout was when Wilson recommended him for lieutenant. "He told me flat out . . . it will get done," Wilson said.

Wilson said he later recommended Kiernan not pass his probationary period and be demoted to sergeant because of concerns about his handling of the Street Crime Unit and a subsequent investigation. Kiernan was defended by GOP-aligned members of the town board in executive session, Wilson said.

Kiernan in the letter accused the bill's author, Democratic councilwoman Bridget Fleming, of "political grandstanding."

Fleming, in response, said Monday, "The broad support the measure received demonstrates it's just welcome reform that continues to move the police department in the right direction."