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Convictions dismissed in 2 Southampton cases

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May 17, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

Convictions against two more men who were arrested by the Southampton Police Department's disbanded Street Crime Unit were dismissed in recent weeks, according to a lawyer for one of them and another person familiar with the case.

Charges against Christopher Rionero and Romaine Hopkins, arrested on separate drug-related charges by the town police's drug unit in 2010, were dismissed in state court after a review by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota.

The dismissals bring to seven the number of cases set aside by judges as a result of Spota's review. The district attorney last spring announced the first cases in which convicted drug dealers were released because of charges an arresting officer had been addicted to prescription drugs at the time. Mohammed Proctor and Bernard Cooks, arrested in separate incidents by the Street Crime Unit, were released in the interest of justice, Spota said then, saying he was "duty-bound under the law."

The dismissals follow revelations that decorated Street Crime Unit police Officer Eric Sickles had been addicted to prescription drugs from 2010 to 2011 before being suspended in 2012, tainting the convictions resulting from his arrests. Sickles was reinstated after drug treatment.

Newsday last month reported that three other men charged in a crack-house raid in 2011 also had their charges dismissed. Kwame Opoku, Nathaniel Cooper and Karron Whidbee had been charged with drug offenses. Cooks was arrested during the same raid. The district attorney's office declined to comment on those cases.

Rionero, of Islip, had been arrested on July 4, 2010, charged with selling cocaine to an undercover officer at a Southampton nightclub. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail, court records show.

Laurence Silverman, an attorney for Rionero, confirmed that his client's charges were dismissed a few weeks ago. Prosecutors, he said, never explained why. Rionero is in an upstate prison on separate charges, he said, and must decide whether to sue the police department and the town.

Hopkins, 30, of Riverside, was arrested in a car stop in May 2010, media reports said. He was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, and had a prior warrant, police said then. Hopkins, represented by a public defender, was not in court when his conviction was overturned. He could not be reached.

An attorney familiar with the case said defense counsel appeared in the case "and it was dismissed without the defendant present," with no reason given, the source said.

Southampton police Chief Robert Pearce didn't return a call. A Spota spokesman declined to comment. Jeltje DeJong, an outside attorney for Southampton, has said town police officers "acted in accordance with the law."

With Sandra Peddie

and Adam Playford

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