Hempstead Village officials and religious leaders gathered on the steps of Village Hall Thursday afternoon in a show of unity and support for the village police department's top brass, one day after Chief Paul Johnson pleaded not guilty to corruption charges stemming from alleged ticket fixing.
The local leaders expressed confidence that Johnson and indicted Deputy Chief Richard Holland would be exonerated, while some questioned the motives of Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas' investigation into the village, which has led to criminal charges against six current or former village officials.
"She promised that she would be fair to the community, but she's done nothing since but try to destroy us," said Bishop William A. Watson of St. John's Church in Westbury, standing next to village Mayor Don Ryan and Hempstead Town Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. "Every black man she finds in this village she tries to bring a charge against, and many of them are bogus." Johnson is black.
Singas said in a statement: "When Hispanic business owners told us that they were being extorted by a Hempstead Village trustee and unfairly targeted by Hempstead Police at his direction, we began this investigation, which expanded when wiretaps uncovered additional criminal conduct." She added that she hopes the local community "will come together to make the changes needed to restore integrity and regain public confidence in village institutions.”
The indicted village officials are:
- Former Trustee Perry Pettus — pleaded not guilty in six indictments from July through Wednesday, with charges including tampering with public records and grand larceny
- Johnson — pleaded not guilty Wednesday to tampering with public records, grand larceny and other charges
- Holland — pleaded not guilty in November to bribery
- Sgt. Joseph Savino — pleaded not guilty Wednesday to tampering with public records, grand larceny and other charges
- Officer Robert Van Wyen — pleaded not guilty in March to grand larceny, possessing stolen property and official misconduct
- Former Officer Randy Stith — pleaded guilty in March to possession of a forged instrument and petit larceny. Resigned from the department. Sentenced to probation, community service and restitution.
Mayor Don Ryan said he has "great faith in our police department" and "absolutely" supports Johnson and Holland. He said crime in the village, while having increased recently, is down 17 percent over the past five years.
He also said the village continues to cooperate with the district attorney's investigation.
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"Criminal activity has no place in village government," he said.
Deputy Mayor Charles Renfroe noted that the board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint Johnson and Holland last year.
Village Trustees LaMont Johnson, Jeffery Daniels and Waylyn Hobbs Jr. did not participate in the news conference.
Village officials said that Chief Johnson, Holland and Savino are on modified administrative duty with pay. Johnson retains his title, but Assistant Chief Patrick Cooke will lead the department for the time being, they said. Van Wyen is on sick leave with pay.
Officials said changes to the officers' titles would require a public vote of the board of trustees, but changes to their duties would not.
The next board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.