Cop's drunken driving cases under review
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Nassau prosecutors say they are reviewing at least 13 new drunken driving arrests involving a highway patrol officer who was disciplined six years ago for making similar charges without a legal basis to do so.
Police Officer Joseph Lynch was assigned to desk duty in 2005, after an investigation by the district attorney's Special Investigations Bureau said that he was stopping cars without probable cause to catch drunken drivers, usually late in his shift so that he could earn overtime.
In addition, a March 2005 investigation report, one of two prepared by the bureau about the officer, says it appeared that Lynch "may be exaggerating the facts of operation or even fabricating the reasons for the stop."
The reports found there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute him criminally.
In order to legally stop a driver, a police officer must have a reasonable cause to believe that the person has committed a crime or offense.
Lynch returned to highway patrol in 2008. Prosecutors say they are looking at Lynch's current open cases after lawyers who represent people he's arrested recently said he may be stopping drivers without cause and lying about the reasons for the stops.
Sheryl Anania, executive assistant district attorney under Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said her office will look at the 13 open cases where Lynch made the arrest, as well as any other cases where he testified at trial since he was restored to regular duty in January 2008.
"The allegation is very serious, and we just want to make sure nothing like that has occurred again," Anania said.
Garden City lawyer Brian Griffin demanded Lynch's disciplinary reports after learning that he was the arresting officer in the case against his client, Nicole Gioielli. Griffin said he had heard of the allegations against Lynch years ago, but thought he had been removed from the Highway Patrol Bureau.
"I don't think it's appropriate to put this person back on the street," said Griffin, who maintains his client, who was arrested on drunken driving charges Aug. 3, was pulled over for no reason. "It's very obvious that the pattern is repeating."
Lynch, 57, could not be reached for comment Thursday. James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, declined to comment.
Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the Nassau Police Department, said Lynch was disciplined and removed from his highway duties after an internal proceeding in 2005. He was assigned to desk duty, first in the First Precinct, then in the Highway Patrol Bureau, but after being retrained, he returned to street duty in January 2008, Smith said.
Smith said there is no evidence that Lynch has acted improperly since returning to patrol.
"People do make mistakes," Smith said. "When we retrain someone, there comes a point in time when we have to restore them to the job they've been hired to do."
Smith said since returning to patrol, Lynch has made 83 drunken driving arrests. Smith said there is a wide range in the number of those arrests made by highway patrol officers, but he said 83 in three years is "a lot."
Prosecutors said there is no indication at this stage that the 13 cases under review were not handled properly.
In Lynch's disciplinary report, dated March 2005, the district attorney's Special Investigations Bureau said: "If the driver is found to have consumed alcohol, it appears as if Lynch may be exaggerating the facts of operation, or even fabricating the reason for the stop."
Lynch used identical language in his arrest paperwork, the report said, and he appeared to make the stops late in his shift in order to get overtime.
When internal affairs set out to observe Lynch, they could not find him at all in the first four hours of his shift, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., the report said. But later in his shift he got busy, the report said. Once he made an arrest, he took about eight to nine hours to process the arrestee, the report said, enabling Lynch to file for overtime.
In 2004, Lynch earned more than $168,000, about $58,000 of which was in overtime, according to the bureau's report. In 2010 he earned more than $190,000, about $52,000 of which was in overtime, according to the Nassau County comptroller's office.
Both Griffin and another lawyer, Michael Arbeit, of Freeport, said their clients' arrests in recent cases happened late in Lynch's shift, around 3 a.m., and their clients say they were not breaking any traffic laws.
"You'd think this guy would have learned," Arbeit said.