Tuckahoe School Superintendent Dean Lucera was arrested late last month on a felony charge of criminal mischief, in connection with an incident labeled a “domestic dispute” by police, but his lawyer said he expects the charge won’t stand, claiming that no criminal activity took place.
Mr. Lucera, 52, of Manorville was arrested by Southampton Town Police on November 21 after an argument that took place at a woman’s home on Tanners Neck Lane in Westhampton, resulting in a damaged door. He was charged with third-degree criminal mischief, a felony, as well as second-degree harassment, a violation.
The woman, who is identified in court documents as an “estranged girlfriend,” could not be reached for comment.
Town Police would not provide any additional information on the arrest, saying it involved a “domestic dispute.” On Tuesday, Town Police Lieutenant Susan Ralph said the department still could not comment on the case.
But court documents obtained by The Press say that Mr. Lucera was charged with the felony offense because police said he had kicked in a side door of the Westhampton house to enter the residence. The door, along with a wooden door frame, had been damaged in an amount exceeding $250. New York State Penal Law states that a person can face a felony count of third-degree criminal mischief when the cost to repair damage to another person’s property exceeds that amount.
Mr. Lucera, who began his tenure as superintendent of the Tuckahoe School District about a month earlier, admitted to police at the time of the incident, according to the court documents, that he had “kicked [the door] to get inside since the door was locked.”
Additionally, he faced a harassment charge, a violation, after a sworn statement by the victim stated that, during the argument, Mr. Lucera grabbed her face and “spit on her.”
It remains unclear, however, whether Mr. Lucera entered the house before, after or during the argument with the woman, and if he was deliberately locked out.
When reached this week, Mr. Lucera referred to his lawyer, Tor Jacob Worsoe Jr. of Holtsville, for comment, but said that no criminal activity took place during the incident, which he deemed a personal matter. “It will resolve itself expeditiously,” he said.
Though police labeled the victim an “estranged girlfriend,” Mr. Worsoe described the woman as Mr. Lucera’s fiancée, and said Mr. Lucera simply had been locked out of the house and had gone back in through the side door to retrieve his keys. The hinges of the door, however, were damaged in the process, which is why Mr. Lucera was charged with the criminal mischief offense, the attorney said.
Mr. Worsoe said the incident “was way overblown. [The door] was repaired. I don’t think it cost his significant other anything,” he said.
“He didn’t break in there,” he added about his client, explaining that Mr. Lucera stays there about five nights a week. “He basically went in the home he was living in to retrieve a set of keys.”
As for the second-degree harassment charge, the attorney said that Mr. Lucera and the woman did have an argument, but he said there was no physical violence.
“She’s very cooperative. She’s not looking to have him hurt at all,” Mr. Worsoe said of the victim, adding that once the woman speaks to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, he believes the charges will be lifted. “She understands that things got out of hand … and now it’s unfortunately in the public eye. I’m pretty confident that it will resolve itself.”
Mr. Lucera, the former district superintendent of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, was hired to serve as Tuckahoe’s superintendent in September and began his position in mid-October at an annual salary of $185,000.
Tuckahoe School District officials, including School Board Chairman Dr. Daniel Crough, did not respond to requests for comment about Mr. Lucera’s arrest, or about any disciplinary action under consideration.
Mr. Worsoe stressed that his client has not had any prior arrests—not even a parking ticket, he said—and is a good fit for his job as superintendent.
“He’s a good guy. He’s excellent for his position,” the attorney said. “He’s certainly an asset to the community and someone who does his job very, very well. The bottom line is, it will resolve itself in a favorable fashion.”