The head of the local police union vocally defended Sgt. Michael Green at the East Hampton Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, and before the night was over, he took his comments further by suggesting the police department is being run by fear and threats.
What was supposed to have been a discussion on the internal affairs investigation involving Green, was instead upstaged by officer Michael Salafia’s show of support for Green and his subsequent comments to reporters attacking Police Chief Matt Reimondo.
Green was promoted to lieutenant and ran the department for four months last year during the attempted removal of Reimondo by then-Town Manager Jeffrey O’Keefe.
“This is a vendetta from Sgt. Green taking over the department in the summer of 2010,” Salafia, a patrolman, told reporters in the lobby of the town hall. “The one thing is, you don’t buck Matt Reimondo. You don’t dare. Those four months, the men were happy, the place ran smoother. Sgt. Green streamlined a few procedures we had to make it easier on the guys. He gave schedules to men that had been trying to get schedules for months. The guy did a lot. Don’t forget, he did this with his hands tied behind his back because he didn’t know if Chief Reimondo was coming back. This is a good man. He should not be out.”
Salafia went on to say he was certain he would be the target of retribution.
“I got threatened [Monday] because I called the union,” he said. “I’m going to be in [Green’s] seat. You watch. I’m next. I feel that whole-heartedly and so do the men that signed that sheet. I’m telling you I speak for the majority.”
The sheet Salafia was referring to was a petition he handed to the council that was signed by eight of nine patrolmen and a sergeant saying that Green should be reinstated. The department has 14 members.
The immediate concern expressed by Salafia to the council before a packed room was that the department is stretched thin and having Green out on paid leave was ridiculous.
“We’re a very small department," he said. "Not only are we stretched so thin, we do everything here. Now we have a guy like Mike Green sitting around who is a valuable member of our department. … Why is this guy not working with us? Why aren’t they lightening the load on us?
“We’re asking for help here. This is ridiculous.”
Asked by council Vice Chair John Tuttle if he had concerns that Sgt. Green shouldn’t be working, Salafia said, “I have concern that he should be working. I am here in support of Sgt. Green as a fine officer, one of the best guys we have. I have my opinion why this is going on."
According to Salafia, what is going on is a fear tactic being used within the department.
“This has got to stop,” he said. “All we want to do is get along and do our job and these IAs keep coming. They won’t stop until they get what they want and we’re fighting back now. This department is run by fear and we’re not allowing it anymore. Fear and threats. There are guys that have had enough. We just want to do our jobs.”
Chief Reimondo was unavailable Wednesday for comment.
Normally, a personnel matter would be discussed in executive session, but Green exercised his option to have the matter discussed in public.
The problem was that because there is only a draft of the IA investigations and not a final report, Green, under the advice of town labor attorney Lisa Lazarek, wasn’t talking.
“As these reports are all in draft form at this point and time, in my opinion it’s not appropriate to discuss the substance of the investigations,” Lazarek said.
That stance surprised the council.
“I am a little disappointed in this because if we weren’t going to be able to discuss this at all, I wish somebody would have notified us,” council Chair Melissa Engel said. “We were led to believe we certainly could and now we’re being told that we can’t.”
Lazarek said she was under the impression that the purpose of the item being on the agenda was to only discuss the status of the investigation.
“I think we’ve established what the status is currently,” she said. “We just got the last draft report today.”
There are three internal affairs investigations being conducted against Green. A fourth was described as dead by Lazarek.
“The fourth never became an IA,” she said. “It is fairly common practice in a police department where there are allegations of wrong doing to make a preliminary determination of whether an IA would be necessary. That fourth never got to an IA stage because it was determined the initial allegations were not substantiated.”
What continued to frustrate the council, however, was that none of the investigations were being discussed.
“If it’s not feasible to be discussed here even with the OK of the person who is the subject at hand, when will it be?” Engel asked.
Lazarek explained that there is a legal reason having to do with collective bargaining.
“The union has made a proposal to the town to consider that would impact Sgt. Green’s employment with the town of East Hampton not having to do with discipline,” she said.
The council also took issue with Green being on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigations.
“Today we have paid Michael Green $11,681.42 to not be at work since July 27,” Engel said. “Unless somebody can say to us that Michael Green is a threat to our community or to himself, I don’t understand why we’re paying him that large amount of money of taxpayer’s dollars to sit at home.”
Said Lazarek: “The matter pending currently between the town and the union would foreclose the need to consider whether or not discipline should result from the IA. The idea behind keeping him on unpaid leave is to determine whether there is any potential for resolution short of discipline.”
None of it was sitting well with Tuttle.
“Are you waiting to try and force a settlement on the man so we don’t have to talk about it?” he asked. “Is that what it is? It certainly sounds it to me.”
“Absolutely not,” said Lazarek, who added it was the union that approached the town with a settlement offer. “I am walking a line here which is trying to protect the town, the police department and Sgt. Green.”
Asked about how he feels about Green’s supervisory capabilities, the Chief declined, explaining the need for the investigations to be completed.
“I’m not going to go into what the men feel. I’m not going in to what I feel,” he said. “It is important that the investigations proceed so that all parties are protected, from Sgt. Green to the town of East Hampton. There is a process that needs to be followed.
“I would have liked them to have come to fruition by now, but unfortunately with an outside consultant conducting these investigations, we are at the mercy of his schedule also.”
Green was still provided an opportunity to speak, but the Chief said he would ask to be excused from the session if Green did.
“If he needs to discuss this case, he’s more than welcome to,” Reimondo said. “I would ask that, due to the fact it is my agency and that I am ultimately responsible for discipline, that I be excused from this session so that I do not have any preconceived notions when I sit down with the attorney and have a final outcome.”
The council scheduled a special meeting for Oct. 12, requesting that a copy of all the reports are received before then. Green can again decide if he wants his portion of the meeting to be discussed publicly.
“All will become clear in executive session as to why all we are addressing tonight is the status of the internal affairs investigations,” Lazarek said.
Tuttle also asked Anne McKinney, who on Tuesday night was appointed as the acting interim town manager until John Weichsel recovers from surgery, to make one of her first duties be to arrange a meeting between the council and Chief to see if there is a way to get Green back to work.