A rookie Southold police officer honored for aggressive DWI enforcement has sued the town, alleging he was fired for arresting Jamesport’s assistant fire chief and the friend of a town GOP leader.
Garrett Lake filed a lawsuit June 10 in State Supreme Court in Riverhead stating town board members “bowed to political pressure” and dismissed him in May.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Lake, 29, was fired because of his performance. He did not elaborate.
“He was terminated based on his job performance. Period,” the supervisor said by email Friday. “His claims are baseless, and not only do I look forward to the facts being discussed publicly, I actually can’t wait.”
Southold Town Board members voted 5-0 at a May 19 special meeting to dismiss Lake, who lives in Cutchogue. The move came four days before the officer’s 18-month probationary period was set to expire.
Lake’s lawsuit said that in his most recent performance review this spring that he was found to meet or exceed standards in every category.
His termination came two weeks after he was honored at a dinner of 23 Suffolk County police agencies as his town’s “Top DWI Cop” for 2015. The award is given to an officer who makes the most drunken-driving arrests in a jurisdiction.
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
According to Lake’s lawsuit, one of the cases linked to his termination happened last July, when he arrested Steven Romeo, a driver in a fatal limousine crash that killed four women visiting the Vineyard 48 winery in Cutchogue.
Romeo, whose truck broadsided the limo, was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .066 percent about an hour and 40 minutes after the crash and was charged with DWI. The legal limit is 0.08.
Lake alleges in his lawsuit that Romeo was a friend of John Helf Sr., vice chairman of the Southold Town Republican Committee. Lake claims Helf was at the scene of the crash and tried “to become involved in Lake’s investigation but Lake did not permit such involvement.”
Helf could not be reached Monday for comment after repeated efforts. Peter McGreevy, the town GOP chairman, declined to comment.
Lake alleges in the suit that former Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, a Southold resident, also called town officials and questioned “the propriety” of Romeo’s arrest. Sawicki, now the county’s assistant deputy police commissioner for finance, did not respond to requests for comment.
Limo driver Carlos Pino was charged in March with criminally negligent homicide after a grand jury found him solely responsible for the crash. Prosecutors said Pino, who has pleaded not guilty, failed to look for oncoming traffic before attempting a U-turn in a Cutchogue intersection.
Another case cited in the lawsuit involves Lake’s February arrest of Jamesport assistant fire chief David McKillop. McKillop, a former Riverhead social studies teacher who retired this year, was charged with DWI after crashing his department-issued vehicle into multiple street signs in Southold. He has pleaded not guilty.
Lake’s lawsuit alleges Jamesport fire commissioners complained to the town supervisor about the arrest. Thomas Brady, the commission chairman, declined to comment Friday.
Lake is seeking to return to the job with back pay. Eric Bressler, his Mattituck-based attorney, said Friday that he had no comment to add to what is said in the lawsuit.
Lake was once a part-time police officer in Southampton Town. He joined the Southold force in November 2014 and was among eight recruits hired to expand the department to 52 officers.