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Long IslandSuffolk

Judge rules firing of Southold cop not politically motivated

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone with Officer Garrett

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone with Officer Garrett Lake on May 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone

A Suffolk County Supreme Court judge has denied a petition from a former Southold probationary police officer who alleged the town wrongfully fired him last year from the department.

The Monday court ruling stated that Garrett Lake “failed to sustain his burden of demonstrating, by capable and competent proof” that his May 2016 dismissal from probationary employee status was motivated by unlawful political motivations or retaliation.

Lake claimed in a lawsuit filed in June 2016 that his involvement in two high-profile arrests played a major role in his dismissal. One involved the July 2015 arrest of Steven Romeo, whose truck collided with a limousine in Cutchogue, killing four women on a North Fork winery tour. Lake claimed Romeo was friends with John Helf Sr., vice chairman of the Southold Town Republican Committee, and that Helf tried to interfere with and obstruct the investigation.

The other case was Lake’s February 2016 DWI arrest of Jamesport assistant fire chief David McKillop. Lake alleged that the Jamesport fire commissioners used “improper politically motivated pressure” on town officials against Lake afterward.

Town officials told the court the arrests had no bearing on Lake’s termination, citing “poor or problematic performance on Lake’s part” as the reason for his dismissal. Town officials specifically cited “certain civilian complaints” that claimed Lake was “overaggressive and overzealous in his use of police tactics in conducting vehicle traffic stops, searches and arrests.”

Town officials added that Lake received counseling and was offered training to correct what they deemed as “problematic or unjustified exercise of law enforcement action,” according to the ruling, but “(Lake) persisted with his overaggressive, and at times, questionable police tactics.” As a result, Police Chief Martin Flatley recommended to the town board that Lake be dismissed.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell praised the court’s decision. “The Court confirmed what we have said all along,” Russell said. “Mr. Lake was dismissed based on the recommendation of the chief of police because of concerns about his job performance and for no other reason.”

Wickham, Bressler & Geasa P.C., the Mattituck-based law firm representing Lake in the case, did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

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