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Southampton Police lieutenant settles $7.5M, yearslong lawsuit against department

James Kiernan accused former Southampton Police Chief William

James Kiernan accused former Southampton Police Chief William Wilson Jr. of trying to ruin his reputation by leaking information to the media and violating Kiernan's constitutional rights.     Credit: James Carbone

A Southampton Town detective who sued the police department in 2014, alleging he was subjected to retaliation for refusing to use his perceived political influence to help his then-boss, has settled the case for $185,000 as well as a promotion, according to a court document released Wednesday.

James Kiernan, former head of the disbanded Street Crimes Unit, will receive a one-time payment of $185,000 and will be appointed detective lieutenant, with a 7 percent increase over detective pay. Kiernan, 52 and a resident of Hampton Bays, agreed to the settlement Sept. 21 after more than four years of litigation. Town officials released the settlement in response to a Freedom of Information Law request.

“Although he was very confident in his case, we thought settling was most prudent for himself and for the town,” said Kiernan’s attorney, Jason Abelove of Garden City. “He really wanted to have peace because he still works there.”

The agreement also gives Kiernan 60 sick days, 11 vacation days and two personal days that can all be carried over indefinitely.

Kiernan's 2017 salary was $186,986.59, a figure that includes overtime and other compensation on top of a $152,108.88 base salary, Newsday payroll records show.

Town Attorney James Burke declined to comment on the settlement but said current Chief Steven Skrynecki “has repeatedly stated that Lieutenant Kiernan has done a very good job for the department.”

Kiernan sued the town for $7.5 million, accusing former police Chief William Wilson Jr. of trying to ruin his reputation by leaking information to the media and violating Kiernan's constitutional rights.

Wilson, who retired in 2012, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit alleged that Wilson asked Kiernan, a former Republican Committee member, to lobby the town board in his favor and that if he “did not support Wilson’s bid for chief, he would never advance in the department.” Kiernan declined, saying his political and work lives were separate, according to the lawsuit.

Kiernan also alleged in the suit that in spring 2013 he was not given an interview for an open captain position despite being one of only two people qualified for the job. The lawsuit further contends that a Southampton Town law passed in May 2013 barring police officers from holding political party positions was targeted at him.

Kiernan had supervised Eric Sickles, a former officer with the Street Crimes Unit who admitted he was addicted to prescription painkillers. Wilson brought 32 internal departmental charges against Kiernan for allegedly misleading internal affairs investigators and other offenses. Kiernan pleaded guilty to four “minor charges” because he could not afford to pay for a formal departmental hearing, according to the suit.

Judges vacated drug convictions against seven men in 2012 and 2013 who had been arrested by the Street Crimes Unit because of questions surrounding their arrests.

Kiernan is the third officer to settle with town in just over a year. Sgt. Lisa Costa, who sued the town for gender discrimination, settled with town officials for $300,000 in September 2017. Lt. Susan Ralph, who also sued the town for gender discrimination, settled for $120,000 in March.

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