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Suffolk Legislature report: Salvatore Gigante promotion violated police rules

The Suffolk Legislature’s confidential whistleblower report has found police Sgt. Salvatore Gigante’s transfer to the district attorney police detective squad violates department rules, county and state law, and the union contract for police supervisors.

The nine-page report by outside counsel Joel Weiss, made public Friday, said Gigante had the least experience of the five applicants for the appointed position. Gigante also lacked even “the entry level qualification” of already being a detective sergeant as required by the job posting late last year, Weiss said.

However, Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart responded that Gigante met the parameters of an additional existing order that allowed him to put in for the position. 

Gigante in the report is referred to only as “Sergeant 1." He was identified last month by David Kelley, another outside counsel representing the county and the police department, as the nephew of Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante.

Salvatore Gigante's appointment needs legislative approval under the county nepotism law.

Jason Elan, County Executive Steve Bellone’s spokesman, bashed the findings as a “leaked report from an attorney who represented a conflicted presiding officer who should have recused himself.”

Elan said the report “was written without speaking to any of the relevant individuals” and called it “an effort to disparage outstanding law enforcement officers.”

Elan said the report was not commissioned "to determine the validity of a promotion, rather it was supposed to be a scope of necessary subpoena power."

It "was meant to authorize subpoena authority to [Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory]," yet after the legislature reviewed the report in executive session at a legislature meeting last month, "the resolution was withdrawn," Elan said, referring to the resolution to provide the presiding officer with subpoena authority.

He added that "the resolution for this report indicated that this must remain 'under seal' — which was not the case given the fact that it was given by Gregory" to Newsday. "That is a serious violation." 

Gregory (D-Copiague) accused Bellone aides of “talking from both sides of their mouth,” saying they had asked for the report and earlier refused Weiss' request for key documents and interviews with police officials.

“It sounds like they are taking the Trump approach to oversight and not making personnel available to legitimate legislative inquiry,” Gregory said.

Gregory said he has the power to release the report in the interest of transparency to ensure officers have a fair shot at promotions, while at the same time protecting people's privacy rights.

Gregory has filed a resolution to rescind Gigante’s transfer.

The Government Operations Committee has asked Hart to appear before the committee Wednesday in Riverhead.

Elan said no decision on Hart's appearance has been made, and that officials still were reviewing Gregory’s resolution.

Hart, in a statement Friday night, said, "Of the six applicants, Sgt. Salvatore Gigante was the only candidate with prior experience working in the District Attorney's office. He has successfully worked sophisticated investigations to successful conclusion and is familiar with the unique investigations undertaken in that office.

"I appreciate the Presiding Officer's opinion and insight," Hart added. "... However, personnel decisions in the Police Department are better left to those with managerial experience in the unique area of law enforcement."

Bellone withdrew the nepotism resolution on March 19, the same day U.S. Department of Justice officials said they were reviewing Gigante's transfer as part of a federal consent decree over discrimination in police hiring and promotion.

Gigante still is assigned to the district attorney police detective unit. The Superior Officers Association has filed a grievance alleging that as a sergeant, he is not permitted to supervise detectives.

Weiss said the transfer violates state Civil Service Law because Gigante is performing duties beyond his sergeant title.

While Kelley called for an end to the legislative inquiry because it could affect the Justice Department review, Justice officials say they saw no conflict.

Weiss said four others who applied had one to seven years of experience as detective sergeants, and two to eight years as supervisors. Each had 16 to 24 years of service with the police department.

Gigante has four months' experience as sergeant. He has two years' experience as a detective, and 12 years with the department.

Another applicant for the promotion who did not get an interview had two years' experience as a sergeant, 11 years as a detective and 20 years in the department.

Hart responded that everyone who applied for detective sergeant received an interview, "and that individual in particular received a promotion to detective sergeant."

Gregory said he was “dismayed” by Hart’s statement, calling it misleading and saying the other sergeant had not received an interview with the commander of the district attorney squad like other candidates. The presiding officer added that applicant, who is Hispanic, was only promoted to detective sergeant in another command after Gregory raised the issue with Hart and District Attorney Timothy Sini, who were lobbying for Gigante. He also said Hart told him Gigante’s earlier experience with the district attorney’s office was “doing social media.”

Weiss said Gigante’s selection “seems strange,” since “others clearly exceed him in having baseline qualifications to apply, qualifications to supervise in the detective division and tenure and credentials.”

But he said the “big difference” between Gigante and other contenders was that “the ultimate signer of the transfer order was, of necessity, the chief of detectives, Sergeant 1’s uncle.”

Hart responded that transfer orders are signed by the chief of department, not the chief of detectives. 

The report called the detective sergeant job “truly a plum assignment,” with base pay of $172,000 a year and “huge overtime potential.” Last year, two other district attorney detective sergeants earned $308,502 and $336,708 respectively, Weiss said.

Weiss also said the decision on the promotion is up to lawmakers.

“You are not rubber stamps. Statutes are not meaningless,” said Weiss to lawmakers in his report. “Relevant statutes … are designed to promote meritocracy, not something different."

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