By Claire Walla
It was an announcement that shocked many last week. On Friday, May 25, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said two previously convicted drug dealers would be released from state prison, their charges fully dropped.
Bernard Cooks, 31, of Southampton and Mohammad Proctor, 36, of Riverside had both been convicted of felony charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance. Those convictions were based on charges brought by Southampton Town Police in relation to drug raids performed by the department’s now disbanded Street Crimes Unit.
Cooks had served nearly one year in prison, while Proctor had served two years, until their cases were reopened and their charges dropped last week.
According to the statement released by the D.A.’s office, both convictions were quickly revoked as the result of an ongoing investigation into the alleged misconduct of a Southampton Town Police officer who was assigned to the Street Crimes Unit.
The statement went on to explain the D.A.’s office had obtained information “that affects the credibility” of the officer, Lieutenant James Kiernan, who has since been suspended and faces 32 disciplinary charges.
“The minute [the D.A.’s office] knew about this, they moved with all possible speed to get my client released,” said Susan Menu, an attorney for Bernard Cooks. “They went above and beyond,” she added. “They even called up and made sure he was being released.”
Menu got the call from Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota two weeks ago.
“I was very surprised. I had not known about this coming down the pike,” she said, adding, “I know very little about the investigation.”
Menu was in court on Wednesday, May 23, representing Cooks, as well as Proctor, whom she represented on behalf of his lawyer, Sag Harbor resident Laura Solinger.
Menu made a motion to vacate the convictions, as the constitutional rights of both men had been violated, she explained. District Attorney Thomas Spota then officially dropped all charges, “in the interest of justice,” she added.
Like Menu, Solinger said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the news that the charges against her client were so suddenly dropped.
“My client’s very happy,” she said. Proctor’s two children, a girl under 5 and a teenage boy, had been taken into Child Protective Services when their father was sent to prison. Solinger said she spoke with her client Tuesday morning to explain how he could obtain a certificate of disposition — a document that would prove his indictments were dismissed — so he could be reunited with his children.
“The decision to release convicted drug dealers back into the community under these circumstances is not taken lightly and is made free from political consideration or favor, contrary to recent assertions made by former town and police officials,” Spota said in a statement released last Friday. “Rather, we are duty bound under the law to take this action.”
According to Southampton Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato, “The town board has been instructed by myself not to make any comments.” This is primarily due to the fact that the investigation is ongoing and town board members have not been privy to the details of the case, she explained.
However, as she is also an attorney in private practice (her office is in Sag Harbor), Scarlato admitted she had “never” seen an investigation of this magnitude.
“No attorney I’ve spoken to has ever seen anything like this either,” she added.
According to the D.A.’s office, over 100 cases are still being reviewed as part of the ongoing investigation into the Street Crimes Unit.
“Our review continues of both pending and closed cases to determine what, if any, action is necessary,” the statement continued. “It is anticipated that other cases involving [the Street Crimes Unit] will be dismissed.”