Southampton board reinstates Eric Sickles to police department

Police Officer Eric Sickles, a former member of Police Officer Eric Sickles, a former member of the Southampton Town Police Department's Street Crime Unit, ran informants and prepared search warrant applications. His prescription pill addiction sparked a department scandal. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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The Southampton Town board voted unanimously Thursday to reinstate Eric Sickles, the cop in the middle of a scandal enveloping the department.

The stipulation agreement signed by Sickles and passed 5-0 by the town board includes what Sickles admitted to doing and the terms of his return to the force next week. The details were not made public, and Sickles and town officials declined to discuss them.

"I'm extremely happy to be back to work," Sickles said after the vote. "This is a great job."

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst called the stipulation "fair" and said it was not made public because it's a personnel matter. "It gets a hardworking officer back in the ranks," she added.

Sickles, 32, was addicted to oxycodone and other prescription painkillers and suspended without pay in July 2012. He will return to the patrol assignment Tuesday and will not have to undergo any additional drug testing beyond that required of other officers, according to Tim O'Flaherty, president of the Southampton Town Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The union said the reinstatement "vindicates" Sickles and noted that broader problems in the town's former drug task force can't be pinned on the decorated officer.

Sickles was a member of the now-disbanded Southampton street crimes unit, which handled confidential informants, drug buys and crimes in the town. Because of his addiction, the Suffolk County district attorney's office is investigating more than 100 convictions, and has already dismissed drug convictions against five men.

Union vice president Det. Kevin Gwinn said the spotlight on the unit should now be turned on current top brass in the department who supervised the unit.

"I think the fingers should be pointed at other people, where they should've been pointed all along," he said. Sickles' supervisors -- Lt. James Kiernan, who oversaw the unit, and current police chief Robert Pearce -- "mishandled the situation," Gwinn added, including allowing Sickles to return to work with just a doctor's note after becoming aware of his painkiller addiction.

Gwinn also said he thinks politics was a factor in the Sickles case. "The Republican party played a huge role, protecting members who should have been held accountable," he said.

Kiernan is a member of the Southampton Republican Committee. He declined to comment, said Ray Perini, attorney for Kiernan and the Southampton Superior Officers Association.

Perini, though, said the allegations about the street crimes unit being discussed in the media "are all unfounded. This is old news."

He applauded Sickles' reinstatement.

"It's time that the superiors and the rank and file in the Southampton Police Department get back to doing the good work they've done in the past," Perini said.

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