DA: Suffolk officer targeted Latinos and stole from them
A Suffolk County police sergeant accused of "targeting" Latinos in traffic stops and stealing cash from them is facing official misconduct and petty larceny charges.
Sixth Precinct Sgt. Scott A. Greene was arrested during a sting operation after stealing a $100 bill from a car driven by an undercover Latino officer, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said Friday.
Greene, a 25-year veteran, pulled over the vehicle and ordered the driver out, authorities said.
Moments later, the uniformed patrol officer was caught on videotape taking the money from an envelope on the passenger seat, then folding the bill and stuffing it in his left sleeve.
Greene, 50, of Shirley, who earned $147,200 in 2012, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday and was released without bail.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber said he was shocked at the arrest.
"I am particularly outraged by his conduct -- of one who is sworn to protect the community and instead targeted those he perceived to be vulnerable," he said.
So far, investigators are looking into three cases in which Latino men claim a police officer stole money from them after he pulled them over for traffic infractions.
Spota said he expects to file additional charges against Greene, including possible hate crimes.
"We strongly feel that this has occurred on a number of other occasions," the district attorney said.
Greene's attorney, Tim Mazzei of Blue Point, said he has known the sergeant and his wife for many years and does not believe the officer targeted Latinos.
"I know he's a decorated police officer and needless to say, these allegations are very startling and very upsetting," Mazzei said.
Attempts to reach Greene at his home were unsuccessful Friday.
Greene's arrest comes after a December agreement among the U.S. Department of Justice, Suffolk County and its police department to address allegations of discriminatory policing against Latino immigrants. The deal came out of a federal probe spurred by the 2008 killing in Patchogue of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a hate incident.
Investigators from Spota's office set up the Thursday night sting to catch Greene after two Latino men complained to the Suffolk police Internal Affairs Bureau several months ago about being stopped in the Farmingville-Medford area -- part of Greene's beat.
Friday, investigators were interviewing a third potential victim, Spota said.
The sting featured an undercover officer driving a car with an intentionally dangling rear license plate, Spota said.
Greene followed the car on Granny Road in Coram and then pulled alongside at a red light. Spota said the sergeant peered at the undercover officer before deciding to pull the vehicle over.
"In my view, he was looking at the driver because he was targeting Hispanics," Spota said.
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 then caught Greene removing the $100 bill from an envelope filled with $1,200 in marked bills.
Authorities believe Greene singled out Latino drivers because some may be undocumented immigrants who are reluctant to complain.
Spota and Webber said they plan to meet with leaders in the Latino community and ask them to reach out to residents who may have also been victimized.
A spokesman for a coalition of Suffolk community advocates said the case underscores the need for police reforms.
"If this incident is true it lends credence to the complaints that Latinos are targeted by the police for traffic stops and suggests that deliberate action has to be taken" to strengthen ties with the community and correct those practices, said Luis Valenzuela, director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, an Amityville group.
With Víctor Manuel Ramos