Flanders Shooting Suspect Was At Center Of Police Turmoil

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One of the suspects involved in last week’s shooting in Flanders is no stranger to the Southampton Town Police Department.

Kwame Opoku, formerly of Noyac and now living in Mastic Beach, was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison for dealing drugs in 2011—only to have his conviction thrown out in the wake of a scandal that swirled around the police department and its now-defunct undercover Street Crimes Unit for nearly two years.

The 33-year-old—whom Southampton Town Police detectives say was the alleged gunman in last week’s shooting that critically injured a Flanders man—was one of at least seven men arrested by Town Police in 2010 and 2011 who had their convictions vacated in 2012, at the recommendation of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office. Those motions to vacate came following the revelation that one of the department’s undercover officers was addicted to prescription drugs at the time.

Two of the men were freed from prison because of the vacated convictions, though Mr. Opoku was not since he was also serving a sentence for an unrelated conviction. He was released on August 23, 2013.

Mr. Opoku, like at least three of the others who had their charges dropped, filed a lawsuit charging wrongful arrest and conviction against both the police department and the D.A.’s office, accusing officers of warrantless searches, fabricating evidence and providing false testimony that led to his original arrest. Last month, Mr. Opoku’s attorney, John Nonnenmacher, wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco stating that his client did not want to continue his lawsuit against the D.A.’s office. The suit against the Town Police, however, is still pending.

One of the other lawsuits, filed by Mohammed Proctor, one of the other men released from prison after having his conviction thrown out, was dismissed by a judge.

Mr. Opoku and two other men were arrested in early 2011 during a raid on a North Sea home. Their arrests were based on evidence compiled by the Street Crimes Unit, a team of undercover Town Police officers, which included Officer Eric Sickles. More than a year later it was learned that Officer Sickles had become addicted to painkillers during recovery from an off-duty injury, and that his supervising officer, then-Sergeant James Kiernan, was aware of his condition and continued to allow him to work on investigations.

The revelations came amid caustic wrangling between the department’s former chief, William Wilson Jr., and some members of the Southampton Town Board. Rumors had swirled early in Chief Wilson’s tenure that senior officers had destroyed departmental records in the days before he took over, which is widely believed to have sparked the investigation by the D.A.’s office in the first place.

Mr. Spota’s office reviewed more than 100 convictions based on Street Crimes Unit evidence, ultimately vacating the convictions of seven. The D.A.’s office has never discussed any aspect of the investigation publicly, and most of the instances of charges being dropped were only learned of after the filing of the ensuing lawsuits.

Both Officer Sickles, who went to treatment for his addiction, and now-Lieutenant Kiernan served months-long suspensions from duty. Both are now back on the town force.

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