Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart did not specify why she rescinded...

Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart did not specify why she rescinded her appointment of Deputy Inspector Thomas Kenneally to assist the district attorney's Conviction Integrity Bureau. Credit: Barry Sloan

A high-ranking Suffolk police official recently appointed to help root out ethical problems in wrongful conviction cases — such as last month’s murder exoneration of Keith Bush — has been removed from that liaison role, Newsday has learned.

Deputy Inspector Thomas Kenneally, the commanding officer of the Major Crimes Bureau, was assigned earlier this month by Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart to assist the district attorney's Conviction Integrity Bureau with “important investigations” of reviewing claims of innocence in past cases. In appointing Kenneally as the new liaison, Hart promised to hold her department to the “highest standards” and vowed any police member caught lying under oath would be prosecuted and fired from the department.

Shortly afterward, Hart reconsidered and yanked his appointment to avoid any conflicts with the CIB’s work, but declined to provide the reason why.

“The department is committed to this partnership and wants the focus to be on the great work being done — not on our appointee,” Hart said in a written response to Newsday, which mentioned removing Kenneally as liaison. “Therefore, a new candidate will be selected.” The department has yet to name his replacement, a department spokeswoman said.

Kenneally did not respond to attempts seeking his comment. Suffolk police officials refused to discuss any questions about Kenneally’s past, citing privacy laws. “Pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, all personnel records — which include all disciplinary records — of police officers are confidential and cannot be released,” the department said in a written response to Newsday’s inquiry about Kenneally’s past records.

A spokesman for the district attorney declined to comment and referred questions to the police department.

In removing Kenneally, Hart also praised him. “Deputy Inspector Thomas Kenneally was selected to work with the Conviction Integrity Bureau because of his exemplary career spanning more than 25 years,” she said in a statement. A spokeswoman said Hart was unaware of any issue surrounding Kenneally’s past before appointing him as liaison.

The widespread publicity surrounding last month’s exoneration of Bush’s 1976 murder conviction — one of the longest-running “innocent man” cases in U.S. history — has put a spotlight on Suffolk’s police and prosecutorial methods. A CIB report filed on May 22 discredited police testimony surrounding Bush’s alleged confession to killing North Bellport teenager Sherese Watson, which Bush says was beaten out of him. The CIB also raised questions about how incriminating evidence about another suspect, characterized as the likely killer, remained undisclosed in law-enforcement files for four decades until discovered by Bush’s lawyer through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Since 2017, questions about improper conduct have resulted in the removal of two Suffolk DA prosecutors and caused some homicide and other felony cases to fall apart. Last year, District Attorney Timothy Sini set up the CIB to review claims of wrongful convictions. Sini, who served as Suffolk police commissioner before taking office as DA in 2018, has distanced himself from the tenure of his predecessor, former DA Thomas Spota. Spota is facing federal corruption charges for allegedly attempting to cover up wrongdoing by former Suffolk Chief of Police James Burke.

Overall, the CIB has received about 80 requests for review of past Suffolk convictions, including the Bush case. It is actively investigating three other cases, including claims of possible innocence in a 1990s homicide conviction that involves allegations of a coerced police confession.

Hart has pledged her department’s cooperation in these reviews. “Our shared goal of the District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Bureau is to ensure equitable justice,” she said in a statement.

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