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Long IslandSuffolk

Lawsuit accuses Southampton cops of vendetta

A Manorville man has filed a $1 million lawsuit against Southampton Town and three police officers, alleging he was sent to prison as part of a police vendetta because he was dating the daughter of a detective in the department's now-disbanded street crimes unit.

The suit, filed Monday by Craig Chillemi, 36, in federal court in Central Islip, charges that Officer Erik Sickles, Det. Thomas Tully and Lt. James Kiernan violated his constitutional rights after they arrested him in August 2007, while he was living in a Southampton home with Tully's daughter. The house was raided by the street crimes unit following an alleged drug sale to an undercover officer.

"During the raid, Officer Sickles taunted [Chillemi] about his relationship with Ms. Tully and propositioned Ms. Tully for a date," the suit alleges. "When Ms. Tully's godfather, Lt. Kiernan, saw her in handcuffs, he removed them and took her to his car. Ms. Tully was not charged."

Chillemi, who also alleged that Sickles planted a small bag of cocaine on him during a subsequent "false" arrest, ultimately pleaded guilty to criminal possession and sale of a controlled substance and received a 4-year sentence.

A spokeswoman for Southampton Town declined to comment. Southampton Police Department Chief William Wilson Jr. said he had not seen the Chillemi suit and also declined to comment. The three officers could not be reached for comment.

The Suffolk County district attorney's office, which is investigating more than 100 arrests made by the street crimes unit, in May vacated the drug-sale convictions of two men who were released from prison after questions about the credibility of the arresting Southampton officer. Robert Clifford, a spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota, declined to comment on the Chillemi case.

Tuesday, the Southampton Town Board suspended Sickles without pay until a hearing on his case can be held. Officials declined to cite a reason for the suspension, saying was it was a personnel matter.

Kiernan was suspended May 4, days before district attorney investigators reportedly seized police department investigative personnel files from Town Hall. Attorney Raymond Perini, who represents him through the Superior Officers Association, has called the disciplinary charges against Kiernan unfounded.

Chillemi's suit also charged that on July 8, 2009, after he had entered a work-release program, Chillemi was a passenger in a car driven by Tara Tully when Sickles arrived and told Chillemi he was not allowed to drive a car while on work release. Then, the suit charges, "While Officer Sickles was handcuffing [Chillemi] for the traffic ticket, Officer Sickles produced a small bag of what appeared to be cocaine without going into any of [Chillemi's] pants pockets."

Chillemi was arrested on unlicensed operation of a vehicle and criminal possession of a controlled substance, charges that the suit alleges were "knowingly false."

"Clearly Craig was not driving the car and didn't have any drugs on him when he was arrested," said Thomas Telesca, Chillemi's attorney. Chillemi currently is in a detention facility in Queens on unrelated charges, according to Telesca.

With Stacey Altherr

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