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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Justice Dept. should reopen probe of discriminatory policing in Suffolk

Juan Cartagena, president and general council of LatinoJustice,

Juan Cartagena, president and general council of LatinoJustice, outside court in Central Islip on April 30, 2015. Cartagena announced a federal class action lawsuit alleging multiple officers in the Suffolk County Police Department targeted Latinos for unfounded, raced-based stops. Credit: Ed Betz

Suffolk County residents should not have to wait years for serious allegations in a lawsuit filed last week against Suffolk police to be resolved in federal court.

That's why the U.S. Justice Department ought to honor a request by LatinoJustice and other advocacy groups to reopen its investigation into allegations of discriminatory policing in Suffolk.

As it is, a consent decree Suffolk signed with the Justice Department in 2013 requires the county to meet regularly with Latino groups, and to compile specific information on incidents and their outcome.

Those meetings, officials say, have been occurring. But a series of new allegations, raised in the lawsuit filed last Wednesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of 21 Latinos who live in Suffolk, are disturbing -- particularly those that say several "unnamed" officers and supervisors may have been involved in systemically singling out Latinos for stops, searches and ticketing.

In addition, the suit alleges that other unnamed police officers collaborated with Sgt. Scott Greene, who last year was recorded stealing money from an undercover Latino officer during a sting operation by Suffolk prosecutors and police. Cops were assisted by LatinoJustice, which filed the lawsuit last week, and other immigrant advocacy groups.

The sting resulted in two indictments, containing 81 criminal charges involving 27 Latino victims, against Scott. Were other officers and supervisors involved? "There is no credible evidence that Greene acted with other police officers," according to a statement last week from the Suffolk district attorney's office.

Greene has pleaded not guilty.

The lawsuit -- along with a separate letter LatinoJustice sent to the U.S. attorney's office last week seeking to reopen the investigation -- includes other allegations as well.

Among them:

That unnamed Suffolk police officers on three occasions stopped and detained Antonio Tum -- who was injured in what LatinoJustice says was an attack in 2010 that left another immigrant dead -- after learning he had talked to FBI agents last year.

The incidents were referred to the Suffolk police internal investigations bureau, and Tum was interviewed by police about the stops this year, according to the letter -- but only after earlier complaints to police Commissioner Edward Webber went unanswered.

That the DA and the police department ignored audiotapes of a 2010 conversation between a 911 dispatcher and a Latino man who said he had $100 stolen by a Suffolk officer. The man said the money was returned by another officer "who told him never to speak to the press about the incident."

The police department, citing its policy of not commenting on pending litigation, released this statement last week: "The public should know that when we receive a complaint about one of our officers' conduct, we treat it seriously and will act upon and investigate it fully."

Still, the department for years was under scrutiny by the Justice Department, following complaints of discriminatory policing of Latinos.

The lawsuit alleges that, for some Latinos in Suffolk, those days are not over. Which is why the Justice Department -- which already is sifting through a range of non-policing-related issues in Suffolk, and Nassau -- should have another look.

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