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Hempstead Village board replaces top brass after retirements

Hempstead Police Chief Michael McGowan shakes Officer S.

Hempstead Police Chief Michael McGowan shakes Officer S. Smith's hand on May 31. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The Hempstead Village board of trustees voted Tuesday to appoint two lieutenants to serve as the police department’s top brass in the wake of three retirements.

Former Chief Michael McGowan, Assistant Chief Joseph Sortino and Deputy Chief Mark Matthews retired May 31.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Lt. Paul Johnson as acting chief and Lt. Richard Holland as acting deputy chief.

However, Lt. Patrick Cooke’s appointment to a middle position - acting assistant chief - was voted down 4-1. Only Mayor Don Ryan voted in favor of it.

Trustee Jeffery Daniels declined to comment on Cooke’s vote, because he said it is a personnel issue.

Deputy Mayor Charles Renfroe had asked if the board could table votes on Cooke and Holland but Trustee LaMont Johnson - whose brother Lonnie is a lieutenant in the department - said he disagreed and wanted to vote on them Tuesday.

The resolutions were added to the agenda Tuesday as addendum items. Only Holland, wearing plainclothes, appeared to be present at the meeting.

Johnson and Holland were hired in 1997, according to Newsday payroll records. Cooke was hired in 1989.

They will be sworn in Thursday, Ryan said.

“Congratulations to the new chiefs,” PBA president Christopher Giardino said. “We look forward to working with them.”

The department has been in turmoil in recent months following the arrest of Officer Randy Stith, allegations of racism in the promotions process and the decision not to renew the contracts of Sortino and Matthews, which would have brought them back down to the Civil Service rank of lieutenant if they had not retired.

The assistant and deputy chief positions are appointed, while the chief’s slot is determined in part by a Civil Service test score. Several lieutenants took the chief’s test in March and the results have not yet been released.

The promotions on Tuesday could trigger a ripple effect across the department if their positions are backfilled.

Det. Steven Wilson Jr. filed a state and federal complaint in February alleging he and another black officer, Raquel Spry-Dacres, were passed over for promotion to sergeant. The Civil Service list in which he and Spry-Dacres had risen to the top expired in November and the current list’s top scorers are five white male officers.

In addition, Stith, a Hempstead School Board member, is accused of stealing money from the Hempstead fire department when he was a treasurer there and forging a letter of recommendation to the Nassau County Civil Service Commission in his police application. The village board voted last month to keep him on paid administrative leave against McGowan’s recommendation that he be terminated.

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