A Suffolk police officer and volunteer firefighter was suspended from the force after being charged with setting fire to an unoccupied home in Central Islip, officials said Thursday.
First Precinct Officer Weldon Drayton, 34, of Brentwood, is the fourth Central Islip volunteer to be charged in connection with an alleged arson scheme in which five vacant homes were deliberately burned between Oct. 21, 2017 and Jan. 14, 2018, said Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini.
Prosecutors unsealed a grand jury indictment Thursday against Drayton, a nearly eight-year veteran of the Suffolk Police Department and a volunteer fire department captain at the Central Islip Fire Department.
At a news conference Thursday, Sini said Drayton was motivated by a desire to increase “his stature” by being the first to respond to the blazes.
“What we have here is an individual who purported himself to be a protector both as a police officer and as a volunteer firefighter,” Sini said. “But instead abused his position as a first responder and as a police officer and put residents’ safety at risk.”
Drayton was arraigned Thursday in state Supreme Court in Riverhead on one count each of third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence. He pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.
Drayton surrendered his police firearm and was ordered to stay away from Central Islip Fire Department headquarters.
In court, Drayton’s attorney, Christopher Rothemich of Islandia described his client as a former Marine and the father of two children. Drayton and his lawyer declined to comment as they left court Thursday.
The other volunteers, Stephen Hernandez and Austin Lehman, both of Central Islip, were charged in March with five counts of third-degree arson after authorities said they used gasoline to intentionally set fire to five abandoned houses. There were no injuries, police said.
A third firefighter, Shawn Key, of Babylon, was charged in connection with one of the arsons, police said in March. All three defendants pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors Thursday charged Drayton with acting as a lookout in his personal car on Oct. 24, 2017 while the other co-conspirators set fire to a home on Vanderbilt Avenue in Central Islip. Prosecutors said Drayton also deleted text messages with Hernandez to hide his crimes.
“Our office determined that Drayton hand-picked this particular house to be a target of arson as it was unoccupied and within the jurisdiction of his company . . . in the Central Islip Fire Department,” Sini said.
Drayton faces a prison sentence of five to 15 years if convicted of arson, and one-and-a-third to four years on the evidence tampering charge, officials said.
Suffolk police said Drayton was suspended “effective immediately.”
“We hold our personnel to the highest moral and ethical standards,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement. “We will not tolerate criminal conduct by our members.”
Drayton joined the police force in November 2010, and was paid a base salary of $132,841, database records show.
In 2016, Sini honored Drayton for making the most DWI arrests in the First Precinct. In 2017, he earned recognition after helping deliver a baby at a home in Babylon.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name the court where Drayton was arraigned. He was arraigned in state Supreme Court.