Weldon Drayton Jr., of Brentwood, at Suffolk County Court in...

Weldon Drayton Jr., of Brentwood, at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in May, 2019. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk County police officer and former volunteer firefighter, charged with arson before a judge dismissed the case midway during his 2019 criminal trial, is being reinstated to the police force, the department said Thursday, and will receive nearly two years' back pay following an arbitrator's ruling.

Weldon Drayton Jr., a former combat Marine corporal and Central Islip volunteer firefighter, has been suspended from the police department since June 2018 following his arrest in connection with what Suffolk prosecutors alleged at the time was an arson scheme in which five vacant homes were deliberately torched between Oct. 21, 2017, and Jan. 14, 2018.

Prosecutors had said Drayton had acted as a lookout as alleged accomplices intentionally set fire to a home on Vanderbilt Avenue in Central Islip so that they could be the first to respond to the scenes to build clout in the department. But four weeks into Weldon's trial, the Suffolk district attorney's office, requested the judge drop the charges after inconsistencies emerged between witnesses, including one who admitted on the stand to dealing crack and being a gang member. 

All charges were dismissed against Drayton. The top prosecutor in the case resigned days later. 

The June 5 decision from arbitrator Jacquelin F. Drucker said the police department, which pressed internal charges and specifications against Drayton on June 14, 2018,  based on the pending criminal case, "has not met its burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that Grievant is guilty of the charges" and must be "restored to duty with full back pay, benefits and seniority." 

The police department's public information office said in an email Thursday: "He is being reinstated and the department has no plans to appeal the decision."

Drayton, in a phone interview Thursday, said he was relieved to be returning to work. He said Suffolk Police Benevolent Association First Vice President Lou Tutone told him he'd be returning to the midnight shift, but in the Second Precinct. Drayton, who before entering the Suffolk Police Academy in November 2010 was an NYPD officer, was previously assigned to the First Precinct. 

"I am very relieved for myself and my family," said Drayton, 36, of Brentwood. "It's been a long two years, from the time of the trial, where I maintained my innocence. I am extremely relieved and thankful for the arbitrator to hear our case and see the truth and render a good decision in favor of myself."

Drayton, who wept openly in court in May 2019 when the charges of third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence were dismissed against him, said  he sees his new assignment as a way to "rebuild my reputation in a new command." 

"I know I've been totally vindicated," said Drayton, who in 2016 was honored by the department for making the most DWI arrests in the First Precinct and again in 2017 after he helped deliver a baby at a home in Babylon. "I knew the truth from Day One. I know there's going to be police officers and others who will have doubts about why I was charged. … But I'm not going to worry about it. I just want to go back and do my job and serve the people of Suffolk County." 

Suffolk PBA president Noel DiGerolamo, whose PBA counsel represented Drayton in the arbitration process, said he would be returning to work "as soon as possible."

"Clearly, the county was unable to make a case justifying the charges brought against Officer Drayton and therefore was required to return him to full duty status with full back pay and benefits," DiGerolamo said. 

Drayton’s defense attorney, Stephen McCarthy Jr., who represented him during the criminal trial, said Thursday: “Weldon Drayton has had a long and successful career as a police officer and it’s completely appropriate that he has an opportunity to be restored to the job that he loves.” 

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