Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Before Tim Sini formally won approval last week as Suffolk’s new police commissioner, with a promise to reform the department and get rid of undue political and union influence, he made a decision that might seem unexpected given his vows.
A week before his legislative confirmation, Sini promoted a police commander who is under internal affairs investigation over whether he improperly allowed the son of a subordinate to have another chance to pass an agility test for hiring after failing twice.
Paul Memay, a sergeant who headed the applicant investigation unit, was promoted to a $167,666-a-year job as lieutenant. Until his promotion, Memay had been one of two headquarters trustees of the Superior Officers Association, the union for police supervisors, but he is now assigned to the First Precinct.
The promotion was unusual. Suffolk’s top civil service official, Alan Schneider, said he did not recall any other instance in his decades on the job in which an officer won promotion while under an internal affairs probe.
Sini, a former federal prosecutor, is charged with cleaning up the $493 million police department, which has been reeling since former Chief of Department James Burke was arrested on federal charges of beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover-up. Burke has pleaded not guilty.
When first asked about the promotion hours before Sini’s confirmation, County Executive Steve Bellone’s chief spokesman, Justin Meyers, said there was “no choice” about the promotion because Memay was selected from a competitive civil service list.
Officials acknowledged later that civil service rules permit a commissioner to select from three candidates for each competitive job, and the lieutenant’s position could have been left open until completion of the internal affairs investigation.
After his confirmation vote last Tuesday, Sini, 35, said in a brief interview that it was his decision to promote Memay. He also acknowledged publicly for the first time that Memay was under internal investigation — something the department earlier had declined to confirm.
Later, Sini said Memay has been an “exceptional officer” with a clean record in his 20 years of service. Sini said Memay did an “extraordinary job” in getting the current class of police recruits ready in a short period of time so they could start work this summer.
Sini noted, however, that the promotion could be rolled back without the need for arbitration during Memay’s six-month probation period.
“I made the decision to promote him, expedite the investigation, figure out what the facts are and determine the appropriate action based on a thorough internal affairs investigation,” Sini said. “Anyone who acted inappropriately or anyone who is engaged in misconduct will be held accountable.”
Tim Morris, president of the Superior Officers Association, said the union played no role in Memay’s promotion or in any internal affairs probe.
Memay has declined to comment.
Sini said he does not expect his decision to undermine public confidence in the troubled department.
“I understand the public trust issues,” said Sini. “But I am not going to treat an officer unfairly to curry favor with the public.”
Newsday disclosed in December that the department terminated recruit Christopher McAdam from the police academy after he was improperly allowed to take a third test to complete 35 situps as part of an agility exam that also included a run and pushups.
Civil service officials say the long-standing policy that all applicants must sign is that anyone who fails the initial test can take one retest within two weeks.
They said McAdam, the stepson of Richard Roth, who worked for Memay in applicant investigations, got 40 days to prepare and was given a third chance to take the test after he failed a second time, even though he was permitted to do situps before push-ups.
McAdam, 36, later got a restraining order to temporarily return him to the academy until a court decision is reached. He said he would be irreparably harmed because the county bars anyone over 35 from taking a future police test. McAdam’s attorney said the second test was voided because the order of exercises was reversed.
Schneider said the testing order was reversed out of “favoritism,” to help McAdam. “I’m sure if he had passed, no one would have said the test wasn’t valid,” Schneider said.
But Sini said, “There’s not a lot of clarity as to exactly what happened.”
He said, “there’s a big difference between misinterpreting civil service law and giving someone preferential treatment, so we have to make sure we know.”
Both sides filed final court papers with State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts Thursday and are awaiting a ruling.
Beyond Memay, the pending court case could affect dozens of other applicants who never got a third test.
The testing procedures are part of a long-standing consent agreement between the county and the U.S. Justice Department to give all races an equal shot at police jobs and to settle a federal discrimination suit against Suffolk.
Civil rights advocates for years have complained that follow-up physical, psychological, criminal and lie detector tests have hurt the chances of minority applicants.
Civil Service officials say 75 other applicants were removed from consideration after failing a single retest. Of those disqualified in the agility exam, 33 were Hispanic, seven were black, two were Asian and one was American Indian.