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PBA union chief asks state board to reinstate him to East End Drug Task Force

The police union in Southampton Village has clashed

The police union in Southampton Village has clashed with Mayor Jesse Warren over a perceived lack of support for the department. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Southampton Village police union president is seeking reinstatement to a regional drug task force after he claimed village officials removed him in retaliation for the union campaigning against the mayor.

Det. Michael Horstman, who was assigned to the Suffolk County District Attorney Office’s East End Drug Task Force on Sept. 20, 2017, has filed an improper practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board. Horstman was elected Police Benevolent Association president on Jan. 1, 2018, according to documents filed with the review board obtained by Newsday through a freedom of information request.

Mayor Jesse Warren told Newsday that pulling out of the task force was advised by consultants. The study by Edmund Hartnett Risk Management was released in May and recommended the village consider leaving the task force because participation cost more than $80,000 in overtime in 2019 with few benefits.

"There were seemingly no violent crimes solved, no wanted suspects located, no local gangs dismantled, no tangible impact on local drug conditions and no apparent impact on the local opioid crisis," the study stated.

The police union clashed with Warren soon after he was elected in June 2019 over a perceived lack of support for the police, and the PBA passed a vote in August 2020 calling for the mayor’s removal as police commissioner of the department. The documents note that in 2021 the PBA actively campaigned against Warren in his successful bid for reelection in June.

"The PBA’s support of Warren’s opponent and campaigning furthered the rift and animosity between the PBA and Warren which was widely reported by local media outlets," reads a PBA memorandum in support of the Public Employment Relations Board charge.

Horstman was told on Oct. 1 that he was reassigned from the task force and into the detective division at the request of Warren and trustee Gina Arresta, according to an email he received from acting Police Chief Suzanne Hurteau. Horstman said Arresta told him that the PBA president should not be on the task force and that the mayor had said the PBA’s treatment of him had "ruined his life."

Horstman’s charge says the reassignment will cause a "chilling effect" on his ability to speak out on union issues. It also says it will disrupt his ability to work for the private security business he owns.

Horstman, whose 2020 salary was $185,772, according to the village, is also asking for a declaration that the village violated the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act, among other relief.

Neither Horstman nor his attorney, Christopher Rothemich, returned calls seeking comment.

Arresta said in an affidavit that the charge is intended to prevent the village board from implementing department reform. She said her comments were taken out of context and that she had questioned whether the PBA president, a public-facing role, should be involved in undercover work.

Warren denied that he was punishing Horstman and was instead acting on the advice of a study commissioned by the village to improve department operations.

"We need to put the safety of our village residents first and private security interests second," Warren said Tuesday. "And we should ensure that public safety services are provided in a professional and cost-effective manner."

The review board denied a motion for injunctive relief to reinstate Horstman while the charge is pending. A pre-hearing conference is scheduled for Nov. 29, according to the review board.

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