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Nassau authorities probe potential bias incident, law enforcement officials say

Village of Hempstead Police logo.

Village of Hempstead Police logo. Photo Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Authorities are investigating a potential bias incident in the Hempstead Police Department, where a white officer found a T-shirt with the words “KKK violate civil rights” above his locker, according to a copy of the police report.

The report states that Nassau County Police responded and collected evidence.

“The Nassau County Police Department Internal Affairs Unit is assisting the District Attorney with this ongoing investigation,” Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said.

“The NCDA is aware of the allegations,” DA spokesman Brendan Brosh said. “We have been in contact with the Hempstead Police Department and we are reviewing the allegations with the assistance of the Nassau County Police Department.”  

Hempstead Police Chief Paul Johnson declined to comment.

“We are aware of this situation and are fully cooperating with Nassau County Police as they further investigate this matter,” Mayor Don Ryan said in a statement. “Since this is an ongoing investigation we have no other details to share at this time.”

The white T-shirt was discovered on Tuesday at 6:45 a.m., a copy of the report obtained by Newsday shows. It had eye holes cut in it with the phrase written in black ink below.

The report lists Officer Matthew Drew, identified as white in the document, as the user of the locker. He declined to comment for the story.

Drew has been named as a defendant, with other village officers, in two ongoing federal civil rights cases regarding excessive force, with one alleging it was because of the plaintiff’s race and color.

The alleged T-shirt incident comes amid recent racial tension within the department, which serves a village where white are in the minority, even as Johnson was recently promoted to become its second black chief in history. A year ago, the department had 60 officers of color among its nearly 130 police officers and nine of the 20 supervisors below the rank of chief are nonwhites. It was not clear Friday if the statistics remain the same.

Detective Steven Wilson Jr. has accused the department of waiting for a Civil Service sergeant promotions list to expire so that he and another black officer, Raquel Spry-Dacres, who had risen to the top of the list would be passed over.

That list expired in November and the current one has five white officers in the top slots.

Wilson filed filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state’s Division of Human Rights. The village has denied Wilson’s accusations of racism and discrimination.

Other racial tensions date back more than a decade. In 2007, a janitor found a hangman’s noose in the locker room. It was investigated by county and federal authorities.

The U.S. attorney’s office had said six years ago that the case was inactive pending new information.  A spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday if it had been reopened. The spokesman also declined to confirm or deny if the office is investigating the T-shirt incident.

In 2012, the village settled a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former assistant chief for more than $545,000. He had claimed village officials were upset because he would not ask federal investigators to stop investigating the noose incident.

A year earlier, a federal grand jury awarded $350,000 to a former lieutenant who claimed she was not promoted and instead demoted for filing gender and racial discrimination complaints. 

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