Suffolk County police are investigating the circumstances of a video recording of a police interview with an immigrant family who sought help regarding gang threats toward their daughter after the video was mentioned in a ProPublica article published in Newsday, the department said Thursday.
The video, secretly recorded by the family in 2016 in a police precinct, showed the girl's father, who only speaks Spanish, asking for a translator several times. When a Spanish-speaking detective enters the room, he speaks English and berates the daughter.
The police department confirmed the probe into the video after several county legislators and community activists voiced concern during a Thursday morning meeting of a legislative panel tasked with oversight of the department.
Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, called the video and other issues raised in the story, including how some missing persons cases were handled, "alarming." She said she called Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who promised to meet with legislators and activists to discuss the issues.
"This is something that the committee is not taking lightly," Martinez said. "This is something that we're going to make sure that we get our questions answered."
In a written statement, the police department said it is "investigating the circumstances surrounding this video. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart has been in touch with the Chair of Public Safety Committee, Legislator Monica Martinez, and will be following up next week with more information."
Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizing director for the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York, told the committee that "nothing has changed" with the department's treatment of Latinos in the decade since the federal Department of Justice began oversight after the bias killing of Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2008.
"This is code red for you as legislators and this county," Barrientos said.
Cheryl Keshner, coordinator for the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition and community advocate of the Central Islip-based Empire Justice Center, said LILAC in late 2017 tested the department with calls seeking translation services. Of 35 calls made, only a dozen were provided the service, Keshner said.
"The Suffolk County Police Department has a robust written language access policy; it's excellent, it's wonderful on paper,” Keshner said. “But that's not enough. We need to see this put into action. Failure to invest the proper resources is costing people their lives."
The department did not say whether it was probing any other issues raised by the story, including the classification of missing youths as runaways.
"We're very outraged by this cover story in Newsday," said Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). She said that after hearing the audio of the encounter, it "is even more disturbing to hear it out of the detectives' mouths — the complete disrespect ..."
Suffolk Police Lt. Michael Homan, who works in the chief of department's office and is a liaison between the department and the legislature, attended the meeting and answered questions from legislators.
Asked by Hahn about the video, Homan said: "I was not there. I can tell you that the policy, upon being asked for an interpreter, is for that person to be provided with an interpreter."
Hahn told Homan: "I hope that you understand the seriousness and the utter disbelief that some of us read this . . . these families that were being tortured with missing children and then tortured, seemingly tortured by the department in their response."
Hahn added: "We are watching."
Homan replied: "We are watching as well, and we assume that people are watching and act accordingly."