Four Latino men who are among those claiming they were victims of discriminatory traffic stops by a Suffolk police officer said Thursday night that the sergeant arrested in the case is the man who took cash from their pockets, wallets or vehicles.
The men, gathered at a house in Coram, looked at photographs of Sgt. Scott A. Greene taken before his appearance Thursday in First District Court in Central Islip and said he is the same officer they had learned to avoid.
"I just felt powerless when this happened, because what could I do if he was a policeman," said a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant, who said the officer took a $100 bill from his wallet during a traffic stop about two years ago.
"Police are supposed to be there to serve, protect and help people, not to harass them."
The other three men also said Greene took cash from them after traffic stops during the last three years.
All asked that their names be withheld, out of fear of reprisal.
The four said they have spoken to investigators with the Suffolk County district attorney's office.
Greene, 50, who was arrested during a sting operation on Jan. 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges of official misconduct and petty larceny.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has said he took a $100 bill from a car driven by an undercover Latino officer.
Thursday's court appearance was Greene's first since his arraignment immediately following his January arrest.
The 25-year veteran of the force, a Shirley resident, has been free on bail.
He declined reporters' requests for comment.
Immigrant advocates have told Newsday that they know of at least 13 Latino men who have come forward to say that a Suffolk County police officer stopped their vehicles, frisked them and took cash.
In court, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Bliss told Judge Derrick J. Robinson that "more charges are coming" and the investigation is ongoing.
Robinson set Greene's next court date for April 23.
Greene, his face somber, sat in the courtroom's first row, looking straight ahead.
After the brief proceeding, he walked silently, holding the hand of the woman beside him, as he made his way out of the courtroom.
"I can't disclose anything right now," he told Newsday before the court session.
Greene's attorney declined to comment.
Irma Solis, an advocate with the community group Make The Road New York, said Thursday night that the immigrants' complaints, to this point, have centered on one officer.
The men said they also are concerned about repeated police stops that led to thousands of dollars in fines.
The Mexican immigrant interviewed Thursday night, for example, said he now carries two wallets -- one for his IDs, and another with money, which he hides.
"They are waiting to see what the results of the DA's investigation reveals," Solis said.
"We are hoping they conduct a thorough investigation . . . to bring some level of security among the Latino population."
The advocates said the case exemplifies the kind of abuses they want to see eliminated from the department following a December settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The settlement, which set a plan for reforms, stemmed from allegations of discriminatory policing after the 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a hate crime.In the sting operation, Spota said that Greene pulled over the vehicle and ordered the driver out. Moments later, the uniformed patrol officer was caught on video taking the money from an envelope on the passenger seat, then folding the bill and stuffing it in his left sleeve.
During the stop, Greene ordered the driver to stand behind his car, Spota said. Authorities didn't say what reason Greene gave, if any, for stopping the vehicle.
A video camera hidden inside the undercover vehicle caught Greene removing the $100 bill from an envelope filled with $1,200 in marked bills, the district attorney's office said.
Authorities and advocates have said they believe Latino drivers were singled out because some may be immigrants living in the country illegally who are reluctant to complain.