Officials in Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's administration called a county social services spokesman to a disciplinary hearing after he questioned Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) about the number of convicted sex offenders in his district.
John Nieves, 30, a Republican who has worked for the county for eight years, underwent a nearly hourlong hearing Friday at Suffolk's office of labor relations, in response to a complaint. The hearing before labor relations director Jennifer McNamara and assistant county attorney Stephen Goodstat was recorded by a court stenographer, said Nieves' attorney, Mark Murray.
Nieves was called to the "disciplinary investigation hearing" after he asked Ramos at a Sept. 16 candidates' night about what Nieves termed the high number of registered sex offenders in Brentwood compared with other communities, Murray said.
Murray said county officials asked Nieves if his information came from confidential department files about homeless sex offenders. Nieves told them the data came from a state Division of Criminal Justice Services website, which is accessible to the public, Murray said.
The county has issued no charges against Nieves, who earns $55,000 a year in his county job.
But Murray said he will file a notice of claim in federal court this week, alleging officials have interfered with Nieves' right to free speech since May, when he began backing Ramos' election opponent Victoria Serpa, who is on the Republican line.
"This is calculated to scare this employee," said Murray, who said Nieves is a Serpa volunteer on his own time and has nothing negative in his work record. "He was asking a question as a private citizen . . . the only way social services could have heard about this was from Ramos and it's thuggery."
Ramos said he made no complaint to the county and does not know Nieves, although he remembered the question. He said he told the audience the state does not play a role in placing sex offenders. "Serpa is just trying to find a way to attract attention to herself since she has no record supporting our community," he said.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider downplayed the hearing's significance. "No charges were filed, no action was taken right now. Labor relations was simply conducting a routine investigation into a complaint," said Schneider. "It seems like a bizarre overreaction. It seems they doth protest too much."
The Division of Criminal Justice Services public registry of sex offenders is searchable by the name of the offender, or the county or ZIP code. Suffolk County has 949 registered Level 2 and 3 sex offenders, according to the website. Level 1 offenders are not required to register.Nieves showed Ramos data for his claim, Murray said, although Ramos said he was never shown any data.
Murray said Nieves, whose job title is social services examiner II, has had most of his duties as spokesman and in intergovernmental relations removed, and that he primarily has been performing statistical work since helping on Serpa's campaign.
Schneider would not say where the complaint originated. Schneider said the matter is "still being looked at" and involves "multiple issues," but declined to be more specific.