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Lieutenant Seeks Damages in New Lawsuit

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 12:38
East Hampton Town Police Department headquarters
Christine Sampson

On March 27, a previously confidential legal document related to an ongoing complaint by Police Officer Andrea Kess against East Hampton Town and its Police Department, became public when it was filed in a federal court as evidence in a new civil rights lawsuit, brought by Lt. Peter Powers of the town police.

Lieutenant Powers is charging that the document, known as a “position statement,” has harmed his professional and personal reputation.

He and Officer Kess are in a romantic relationship. Before that relationship began, he was her supervisor. According to Eric Sanders, an attorney representing both plaintiffs, the statement in question alleges that Lieutenant Powers “protected Andrea Kess throughout her career.” In fact, said Mr. Sanders, “He was her supervisor for only a short period of time, and that was before they were dating. They’re trying to undermine her claims and damage him in the process. . . . There’s lots of false representation in there.” He said there are employment records to substantiate Lieutenant Powers’s claims.

The position statement, prepared on behalf of the town by Volz and Vigliotta P.L.L.C., asserts that there have been “incidents of incompetence, misconduct, and problematic policing” on the part of Officer Kess, and “many other similar instances” that “were not documented, as a result of her relationship with her then-supervisor and eventual live-in boyfriend, Lt. Powers.”

The town goes on to describe Officer Kess, who has received several commendations but no promotions since she was hired in April 2016, as engaging in “aggressive policing,” posting “gaudy arrest numbers,” and engaging in questionable search-and-seizure methods, “such as claiming to consistently smell marijuana or alcohol on suspects to justify an entire search of a vehicle when other officers did not; inaccurately recording prescreening breath test results, and engaging in inappropriate lines of questioning of suspects during arrests.”

The police department’s employment decisions, it says, “were based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.” The officer was “treated equally and fairly by the E.H.T.P.D., given access to numerous training opportunities to allow for her advancement, and often recognized for her positive contributions to the department. . . . The fact that she has not yet been promoted has to do only with her demonstrated need for improvement, not on impermissible considerations of her gender.”

The statement goes on to claim that there are many other instances “where supervisory officers have recoiled from further documenting [Officer Kess’s] deficiencies for fear of retribution from her live-in boyfriend, Lt. Powers.”

Lieutenant Powers, in the new lawsuit, is seeking punitive damages against the town and the police. “His personal and professional reputation shouldn’t be undermined because the town doesn’t want to admit they’ve done all these other things to Officer Kess and damaged other supervisors in the process,” his lawyer said by phone this week. “It’s not just him. He’s [just] the only one filing this complaint.”

Robert Connolly, the town’s attorney, did not return a request for comment by press time. In an email to The Star, Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said he could not comment on pending cases other than to say that “it is unfortunate to see the deliberate mischaracterization of information set forth in a separate and closed legal filing used as the purported basis for a new complaint.”

Officer Kess, who was hired in 2016, lodged her initial harassment and discrimination complaint last May, later amending it to say she has since experienced retaliation.

In August, the town board hired a neutral investigator, Arthur Riegel, an attorney based in Hewlett Harbor, to “conduct employee interviews and make recommendations to the town board regarding these matters.” His initial appointment, which the board agreed could be extended if necessary, was for $9,000.

Town records show that in December, Mr. Riegel requested that the town pay $7,186 for related transcription services, which was later upped to $11,074 by a town board vote. Last Thursday, the board voted to retain Mr. Riegel for up to three additional days of investigative services, for a total of $9,000, and to pay at most another $5,000 for related transcription services.

“As ever, I stand behind our professional handling of personnel matters, as well as our oversight of police department personnel in accordance with town guidelines and department rules and procedures,” Chief Sarlo said in his email. “I look forward to having an opportunity to formally reply to the allegations with facts and evidence in an appropriate forum.”

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