Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley was officially reinstated Monday after the town board voted 6-0 at a special meeting at Town Hall to allow him to return to his post following his suspension earlier this year.
Addressing the board with more than 50 people in attendance, Flatley — who will be back with the department starting Tuesday —said he accepted “ultimate responsibility” for how the Southold Police Department allegedly mishandled complaints over a former police sergeant’s retirement party in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the terms of the settlement, Flatley will retire effective June 24, 2024, according to a memorandum to the town board, which came from Town Attorney John J. Burke. In addition, a letter of reprimand will be permanently placed in Flatley’s personnel folder. The settlement also required Flatley to issue a public apology on the incident and said he would accept the suspension without pay from Aug. 12 through the ratification of the settlement agreement.
“I apologize to all the residents of the town and in particular to the residents who called 911 with the police department to register a complaint regarding activities associated with the retirement party. They deserved a professional response from our department, which they did not receive,” Flatley said in a prepared statement. “A breakdown in training and communication and failure to follow policy and procedure among department members is inexcusable and understandably has eroded the public’s trust in their police department.”
Flatley added that going forward, “I will ensure that this type of activity will never occur again under my leadership. I will work to restore the trust and relationship that all Southold Town residents deserve to have with their police department.”
Flatley was serving a suspension without pay — which the town announced in August — resulting from a two-year investigation into how the Southold Town Police Department handled complaints over the May 29, 2020 retirement party at a Cutchogue tree farm owned by former police Sgt. Steven Zuhoski. Those who complained said dozens of people at the party were ignoring social-distancing protocols, as well as reportedly setting off fireworks. Zuhoski, who had worked in the department for nearly 24 years, had retired that day.
The town board reached a settlement agreement with Flatley prior to a pending disciplinary hearing, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell told Newsday on Friday.
Capt. James Ginas, who has been with the department for 34 years, has been acting as police chief since August following Flatley's suspension.
After the vote, Flatley was greeted by officers, residents and others outside of the meeting room with applause.
Russell told Newsday on Monday prior to the meeting that the findings of the investigation would not be released yet due to ongoing disciplinary proceedings that are underway.
“There is still a disciplinary process underway so the whole report would not be released. In fact, the entire town board has not seen the details since we will ultimately be serving as judges to any findings presented by the independent hearing officer. Anything with respect to the specific issues involving the chief will be released to the extent we can based on the determination of labor counsel,” Russell said.
Russell was referring to four other town employees who may also face disciplinary action.