A detective called by prosecutors to testify in a father and son’s trial on charges they dumped toxic debris in Suffolk guided jurors through his 2014 inquiry into the case Wednesday and faced grilling by a defense attorney over his expertise and investigation.
The testimony of Suffolk Det. Theodore Severino, on loan to the district attorney’s environmental crimes unit, came on the second contentious day of testimony in the trial of Thomas Datre Sr., formerly a prominent fundraiser for Islip’s Republican and Conservative parties, and his son, Thomas Datre Jr.
The pair are charged with criminal mischief; endangering public health, safety or the environment; and operating a solid waste management facility without a permit.
On Tuesday, Datre Jr.’s attorney, Kevin Kearon of Garden City, accused investigators on the case of “unscrupulous, improper, coercive” tactics. He also charged that Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota engaged in a “political hit” against the Datres after prosecutor Mark Murray told jurors in his opening statement that “opportunity and greed” motivated the father and son to dump the debris at three locations in Islip Town and one in Babylon Town.
In the same Central Islip courtroom Wednesday, Murray called Kearon’s comments to the jury the day before “improper” and “argumentative.” Murray then asked acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho to forbid defense attorneys from discussing a political conspiracy by Suffolk law enforcement officials against the Datres. Camacho said he wanted to keep “any speculation, rumors or innuendo” from distracting the jury.
Camacho told Kearon that if he “thought there was any basis to believe that any of this was true, in no way would I ever attempt to protect anybody. . . . I’m a trial judge. I’m as apolitical as you get. What I protect every single day in this courtroom is the integrity of the process.”
Severino, with 30 years as a police officer, of which more than 15 have been spent investigating environmental crimes, testified Wednesday he was the lead detective looking into the dumping of dirt and construction debris at four sites — Islip Town-owned Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood; a six-home subdivision in Islandia for returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families; a privately owned, 1-acre plot on Islip Avenue in Central Islip; and a sensitive wetlands area in Deer Park.
He said when he arrived April 9 to begin his criminal investigation of dumping at the Brentwood park, it was still open to the public.
Kearon questioned Severino about whether the crime scene could be secure and the investigation’s integrity preserved with the park still opened. Severino acknowledged that he and other Suffolk investigators considered Roberto Clemente Park a crime scene, but no one had put up yellow police tape to signify that the park was off limits.
Severino said Islip Town sealed the park to the public on April 23.
In the 15 days between when Severino began his investigation and officials closed the park, Kearon said, there was “absolutely no securing” the crime scene. Kearon also suggested that someone else previously dumped the contaminated material at the park when it was a landfill. Assistant District Attorney Michelle Pitman then asked Severino if park soil tested once the dumped debris was removed showed signs of contamination and the investigator told her no. Pitman said the clean park soil refuted Kearon’s suggestion the contamination occurred before the park replaced the landfill.
At the Islandia site, Severino testified, other contractors had brought materials, including fill. He said he did not know the names of those contractors nor did he investigate any other companies for bringing contaminated fill.
Earlier Wednesday, jurors saw a clear, coffin-shaped box filled with an estimated 100 pieces of material taken by Severino from the dump sites at the park.
Prosecutors initially offered the contents of the box as evidence on Tuesday, but Kearon insisted on questioning Severino on the materials. Severino testified Wednesday that the items — including piping, wire, brick, brown glass, metal, plastic, shoes, flooring, ceiling, wire mesh and brick were all found “on the surface” of the soccer fields and recharge basin, but had not been scientifically tested by any laboratory, nor had they been tagged or logged for evidence.
Camacho ultimately allowed jurors to view the contents of the box.