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‘Neutral’ Attorney to Probe Allegations Against Town Police Department

Thu, 08/24/2023 - 11:17
Durell Godfrey

The East Hampton Town Board last Thursday hired a neutral investigator to probe personnel matters within the Town Police Department in light of the complaint filed in June by a female officer alleging she is a victim of gender-based discrimination and harassment in a hostile work environment.

The town board will pay Arthur Riegel, an attorney based in Hewlett Harbor in Nassau County, a maximum of $9,000 “to conduct employee interviews and make recommendations to the town board regarding these matters.” Mr. Riegel has been mediating employment cases for education, government, and utility agencies since the 1990s, according to his résumé. The resolution notes that additional funding is possible as needed, by approval of the town board.

On June 30, Officer Andrea M. Kess filed a scathing complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights that described a “boys’-club” type climate that created harmful working conditions. She claimed the department’s male leaders were responsible for denying her opportunities for overtime, training, and discretionary appointments and promotions to higher ranks despite her superior performance over her seven years of service to the department so far.

Officer Kess, who has 14 commendations from her department and many others from partner agencies including the Suffolk County Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, even said she had been accused of trading sex for information on cases she was working on. She has also claimed that other female officers and department employees were subjected to similar treatment.

“There are certain allegations that have been made in the Police Department, and as is the town’s practice and our policy, we are following up with an independent investigation of the allegations,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said by phone on Tuesday.

The New York City attorney Eric Sanders, whose law firm is representing Officer Kess and who said he has spoken with the incoming investigator, said late Tuesday that he and his client “are cautiously optimistic” over the town’s efforts to bring in a third party to probe the matter.

“However,” he continued, “we would feel more comfortable if the so-called ‘neutral investigator’ was secured from the American Arbitration Association and not one who’s primarily retained by alleged government actors.”

East Hampton Police Chief Michael Sarlo, who is targeted in the human-rights complaint alongside several other senior officers, said in an email on Monday this week that he is looking forward to the process of working with Mr. Riegel.

“Given the nature” of Officer Kess’s complaint, he said, “and the involvement of senior staff members typically tasked with personnel oversight and internal affairs investigations, we openly welcome an independent investigation into these matters. The town board and I take these allegations and the equitable treatment of all employees very seriously.”

 

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