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Long IslandSuffolk

PBA lawsuit seeks to keep internal police probes private

Suffolk County's largest police union has filed a lawsuit to force county officials to uphold a state law forbidding public disclosure of personnel and internal affairs investigations of its police officers.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 25 on behalf of the 1,600-member Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and its president, Noel DiGerolamo, seeks "preliminary and permanent injunctions requiring the county to protect from inspection, review and/or disclosure current and former police officers' protected employment and personnel records."

Defendants named in the lawsuit are County Executive Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County Police Department and police Commissioner Ed Webber as well as the current 17-member Suffolk Legislature.

The 37-year-old state law also protects personnel records of firefighters and correction officers.

It's not clear what prompted the PBA to file the lawsuit since it does not cite a specific case where the state law may have been violated. Repeated calls to DiGerolamo and David A. Davis, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, were not returned.

State Civil Rights law section 50-a mandates that such records are confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of the law enforcement officer in question or unless mandated by a judge's court order.

The lawsuit has no specific examples of when or how county officials violated the state law, said Huntington-based attorney Paul Sabatino, who worked for six Suffolk County administrations as legislative counsel.

"What's the harm? What's the specific injury? What is the context? What irreparable harm are they asking the court to reverse," Sabatino said. "They are just repeating the statute and saying, 'We think that the county should follow the statute.' Well, you can't get courts to just say that municipalities should follow a statute unless it's in the context of a specific individual or a specific issue or a specific controversy or a specific incident. I think there is something missing in this lawsuit."

Bellone's spokeswoman, Vanessa Baird-Streeter, said she was unaware of the lawsuit but could not comment on pending litigation anyway.

Calls to Webber were not returned.

Newsday has reported details of internal affairs investigations in the past. On Oct. 20, five days before the lawsuit was filed, Newsday reported details of an internal affairs investigation of Suffolk Chief of Department James Burke.

With Paul LaRocco

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