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Southampton faces another suit amid police probe

Robert Pearce gets sworn by Sundya Schermeyer, Town

Robert Pearce gets sworn by Sundya Schermeyer, Town Clerk of Southampton as the Southampton Town's new police chief. A long-time police department veteran, he has been acting chief since the post became vacant a month ago when the former chief resigned. (Dec. 6, 2012) Credit: John Roca

Another man whose felony drug charges were dropped last year amid a Southampton police misconduct probe has filed suit against the department, the town and numerous officers, alleging false arrest, assault and warrantless search.

Kwame Opoku of Southampton is at least the third imprisoned man whose charges were dropped last year after a probe into alleged police misconduct by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, who last year said he was reviewing more than 100 similar cases. Opoku remains in prison on unrelated charges, his lawyer, John Nonnenmacher, said.

According to a civil complaint filed Feb. 21 in federal court in Central Islip, a drug possession charge against Opoku was dropped last July after he had served 7 months.

Court records show Opoku pleaded guilty in 2006 in an unrelated federal case to unlawful use of a controlled substance and failure to notify probation officers of his arrest.

In at least two other cases, Spota acknowledged releasing convicted drug dealers from prison as a result of his investigation into possible police misconduct by the Southampton police. Dismissal of Opoku's case was never formally announced.

"The decision to release convicted drug dealers back into the community under these circumstances is not taken lightly and is made free from political consideration or favor, contrary to recent assertions made by former town and police officials," Spota said in a statement last year. "Rather, we are duty bound under the law to take this action."

Spota spokesman Robert Clifford said Tuesday he could not confirm that Opoku's case was dismissed. The court seals records of those whose cases are revoked. Clifford said the DA's review of more than 100 cases from Southampton continues.

Calls to Southampton Town and its police department weren't returned. The town in October approved spending up to $10,000 to defend the Opoku case, town records show.

Jeltje DeJong, an outside attorney for Southampton Town, said town police officers in each of the cases "acted in accordance with the law." She called it "unfortunate that the DA vacated those decisions."

Nevertheless, she said, "In each case, we believe the jury will find in favor of the police and the town."

The Opoku case is one of a string of recent filings the town and its police department must defend.

The Opoku civil suit says Officer Eric Sickles performed warrantless searches of Opoku's home, falsely arrested him, fabricated evidence and gave false testimony during a grand jury proceeding. Sickles has been suspended from the force pending an investigation. His boss, Lt. James Kiernan, was reinstated last year after his suspension on unspecified misconduct charges was settled with the town.

Opoku seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Officials with the Southampton Patrolman's Benevolent Association, which represents Sickles, didn't return calls seeking comment, and Sickles couldn't be reached.

With David Schwartz

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