Southampton police official sues over alleged retaliation

Southampton Town police Lt. James Kiernan leaves federal

Southampton Town police Lt. James Kiernan leaves federal court in Central Islip on March 27, 2014. (Credit: James Carbone)

A Southampton police lieutenant is suing the town, its police department and former police chief for more than $7.5 million, saying he suffered retaliation after he refused to use "his perceived political influence" to help the former chief, according to the federal lawsuit.

Lt. James Kiernan, once head of the town's now-disbanded Street Crimes Unit, filed the civil suit on March 21 in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. The lawsuit accuses former chief William Wilson Jr. of trying to ruin Kiernan's reputation by leaking information to the news media and violating his constitutional rights.

"They destroyed his career trajectory and publicly humiliated him," said Jason Abelove, a Garden City attorney representing Kiernan. Abelove said Kiernan was not available Monday to comment about the case.


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Wilson, who retired in late 2012 as chief, said, "I look forward to the opportunity to present the facts of the case in federal court." He declined to comment further.

Kiernan said that in the spring of 2013, he was denied an interview for a captain's position that was open, as a "direct result of the negative and false press accounts."

The lawsuit also said Kiernan's constitutional rights of free speech and association had been violated. The town last year passed a law that prevents police officers from holding political party positions. Only Kiernan, a Republican committeeman, was affected, according to the lawsuit.

Kiernan had been the supervisor of Eric Sickles, a former police officer of the year who admitted he was addicted to prescription painkillers.

Wilson brought 32 internal departmental charges against Kiernan for misleading internal affairs investigators and other offenses.

The lawsuit said Wilson concocted the departmental charges against Kiernan as retribution for not helping him.

Kiernan pleaded guilty to four "minor charges" because he could not afford to pay for a formal departmental hearing, according to the lawsuit.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota later asked judges to vacate drug convictions against seven men who had been arrested by the Street Crimes Unit because of questions surrounding their arrests.

The lawsuit said Wilson asked Kiernan to use his position as a town Republican committeeman to help him become police chief in 2011. Kiernan declined, saying his political and work lives were separate, according to the lawsuit.

Wilson approached Kiernan again for political help, saying Kiernan's "Republican friends" were blocking his agenda to change the police department, the suit alleges. Kiernan declined.

Kiernan's lawsuit said Wilson and the town leaked confidential personnel information to the news media -- including internal affairs statements, photographs and the settlement agreement with Kiernan -- in an effort to embarrass him. The suit called that a violation of New York's 50-a law, which prevents information about officer misconduct investigations from becoming public.

A Southampton Town spokeswoman declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

Kiernan made $162,382 in total compensation in 2012, according to town records.

With Mark Harrington

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