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Sag Harbor Suspends Police Chief

Sat, 12/02/2023 - 09:42
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin J. McGuire in April 2021
Durell Godfrey

The Sag Harbor Village Board, on Monday, formally served the village’s police chief, Austin J. McGuire, who had been suspended on Friday, with charges including misconduct, incompetence, and insubordination.

“This is to advise you that the penalty sought in this proceeding is termination of your employment with the village. This is to further advise you that you are hereby suspended without pay for thirty calendar days effective December 1, 2023, pending disposition of these charges,” reads the end of the 25-page village document, signed by Mayor Thomas Gardella.

By law, Mr. McGuire can only be suspended without pay for 30 days.

Many of the 32 disciplinary charges, made public after a special board meeting on Friday evening, involved allegations that the chief appeared in public “intoxicated, impaired, or under the influence of alcohol” both on and off duty. There was no supporting documentation provided to the public to accompany the charges, but Mayor Gardella said interviews were conducted to back them up.

Mr. McGuire, who has served as chief since January 2016, had been working without a contract since May 31, 2021. He was on paid sick leave from early July through early September and has been on administrative leave since then.

Neither Mr. McGuire, his lawyer, nor the village’s lawyer in the matter, Vincent Toomey, could be reached for comment. As of Friday evening, according to Sag Harbor officials, Mr. McGuire was seeking a settlement with the village.

The village’s charges against him involve incidents that took place between Dec. 1, 2020, and July 2, 2023.

Among other things, the village has accused him of “operating a police vehicle while intoxicated, impaired, or under the influence of alcohol.”

They also include “subjecting a subordinate to sexual harassment,” creating “a hostile and/or uncomfortable work environment,” profane outbursts directed at former Mayor James Larocca, “directing subordinates to provide unauthorized services to your friends and acquaintances” or to not promptly respond to calls for police service, and “impairing the image of the village and its department by acting in an out-of-control, rude, drunk, and disorderly manner.”

Many of the charges stem from a July 1, 2023, incident, the day of the Southampton Village Fourth of July parade, at which the village alleged that Mr. McGuire was observed intoxicated. A call later that day for an altercation at Sag Harbor Kitchen was unanswered by Mr. McGuire, who also allegedly encouraged subordinate officers not to respond, the village said.

Shortly after that incident, Mr. McGuire was temporarily relieved of his duties and went on paid leave for what was described at the time by Mayor Gardella as a “personal health issue.” Lt. Rob Drake was appointed to fill Mr. McGuire’s role in the interim. He has yet to take the police chief test but remains in that role. Lieutenant Drake could not be reached for comment.

The village had previously counseled Mr. McGuire about drinking excessively in public in a memo dated June 13, 2022, after an allegedly drunken episode at a retirement party for a village employee at the Clubhouse in Wainscott in April 2022.

While many of the charges are repetitive, related to alcohol use, and refer to a handful of days, the village has also accused Mr. McGuire of spending money without the approval of the village board, creating a hostile work environment because of a relationship he had with a village employee, and attending to personal matters while on the clock.

Under the rules of suspension, Mr. McGuire has had to surrender his service revolver and shields and he may not wear his uniform. In accordance with village code, the board will select a hearing officer and Mr. Toomey will prosecute the case against Mr. McGuire, who will also be represented by counsel. The hearing officer had yet to be named by Tuesday morning, though Mayor Gardella said the board had a couple of people in mind. At the end of the proceedings, which could take months, the hearing officer will make a recommendation to the board. The board has the ability to override the recommendation if it does not agree. It is not clear if Mr. McGuire would be able to appeal the decision.

Former Mayor Larocca would not comment on the matter for the record.

“This is going to be a difficult time for us because we’re a small village and there’s a lot of close personal relationships,” Mayor Gardella said in a phone call after the meeting on Friday. “To go through this process is going to be very difficult.”
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Note: This article has been updated since it originally appeared online.

 

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