The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is investigating Southold Town’s response to a May police retirement party, but that probe is on hold while the town’s outside counsel conducts its own investigation, according to a memo to the town.
Southold officials retained Justin Block, of Central Islip-based Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina LLP, in July as special counsel to the town. He was hired to investigate the Southold Police Department’s response to the May 29 retirement party in Cutchogue for former Sgt. Steven Zuhoski.
Residents complained that police ignored their phone calls reporting that party guests were not following social distancing protocols and that fireworks were being shot off. Witnesses said dozens of people attended the event in violation of state guidelines, which at the time limited gatherings to 10 people.
The DA’s office is aware of and was investigating the incident, according to an invoice filed with the town on Aug. 6 by Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina LLP.
“Call from ADA Kevin Ward; they have an open investigation but are on hold pending JMB investigation,” reads a line on the invoice. Ward is an assistant district attorney with the public integrity bureau. JMB is a reference to Block. The July 30 call lasted 15 minutes, for which the town was billed $87.50. The invoice, which totaled $385, is available on the town’s website.
Block declined to comment when reached Tuesday, citing the ongoing investigation.
It is not clear why the district attorney’s office would investigate the matter. The DA’s office, which typically does not discuss ongoing investigations, did not respond to a request for comment.
Police Chief Martin Flatley gave a preliminary investigation report to the board in June, but board members said they were not satisfied with it, prompting the board to hire independent counsel.
“The Town Board found [the chief’s report] insufficient and chose to hire an independent investigator,” Town Supervisor Scott Russell wrote in an email Tuesday. “The independent investigator [Block] serves on a committee for District Attorney Tim Sini. His role on that committee is largely to investigate police conduct. I assume the integrity unit has faith and confidence in his credentials, professionalism and objectivity and are waiting for him to complete his work.”
Russell said no dollar amount has been set for the probe’s cost.
“The investigation should be thorough and include all details,” he said. “Setting a dollar amount could potentially limit the scope. Money shouldn’t drive this bus, facts should.”
At least one person who witnessed the party and said town police ignored her complaints said she has yet to hear from the private investigator.
Laura Solinger, of Cutchogue, said she saw the gathering and called police twice. She said she was contacted by assistant town attorney John Burke twice in July. But Burke only sought information on the placement of the party tent, and not on the police department’s response, Solinger said.
“I’m still waiting to be contacted because we were told there was to be an investigation,” Solinger said. “Nobody has called me regarding my phone calls to the precinct.”