Capt. James Ginas has been appointed acting chief of the Southold Police Department, replacing Martin Flatley, who led the force for more than a decade, Town Supervisor Scott Russell told Newsday on Thursday.
The move comes days after the town board announced it had suspended without pay an unidentified Southold employee and that four others were facing undisclosed disciplinary charges.
The moves stem from a two-year investigation into the department’s handling of an officer’s May 2020 retirement party, which appears to have violated state protocols in place during the early days of the pandemic.
Russell would not confirm whether Flatley, who joined the department in 1980, had been suspended or disciplined as part of the investigation.
“I can’t [discuss it,]” Russell said. “It’s a personnel matter.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Flatley declined to comment.
The five other board members declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
Ginas has been with the department for 34 years as a police officer, sergeant and lieutenant.
On Tuesday, the board voted 6-0 to appoint a hearing officer in the matter and to institute the suspension, which is in effect until the determination of the hearing.
Resolutions passed by the board do not state what charges the individuals face and identify them only by their employee number.
Three of the numbers correspond to police officers John Hinton and Daniel Mackey and Sgt. Steven Witzke, according to a town document detailing who pays Southold Town police union dues. The other two numbers do not appear on the list, indicating they are not police union members. Flatley is not a union member.
Russell said more information could be publicly disclosed “over the next few months” as the hearings progress but that the employees are “entitled to due process.”
Residents complained on May 29, 2020, that Southold Police ignored calls that a large number of people were partying at a Cutchogue tree farm owned by former police Sgt. Steven Zuhoski and were not following social-distancing protocols, as well as reportedly setting off fireworks.
Zuhoski, who worked in the department for nearly 24 years, had retired earlier that day. State protocols at the time banned large gatherings and required social distancing.
No mention of the incident appeared in the weekly Southold Town police blotter and residents complained that law enforcement was “dismissive” of their complaints and had flouted the law.
At the time, Flatley said he had no “direct knowledge” of the party.
In July 2020, the town retained Justin Block, of Central Islip-based Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina LLP, as special counsel to the town to investigate the police department’s response to the party. The Suffolk District Attorney’s Office also launched an investigation.
Last month the town released a statement saying the investigation’s conclusions were “very troubling.”
With Vera Chinese