Originally published: August 16, 2010 8:27 PM
By ZACHARY R. DOWDY firstname.lastname@example.org
A local businessman says he was harassed and intimidated in a bid to derail his business.
Henry Terry on a dock along the Patchogue
Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan | Henry Terry on a dock along the Patchogue River across from the property and Marina parts business he used to own before selling it in 2005. (Aug. 11, 2010)
A federal judge is presiding over a case that could decide whether code enforcement officers in Patchogue were illegally empowered to act as police officers – a case in which a local businessman says he was harassed and intimidated in a bid to derail his business.
U.S. District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf is hearing a claim filed by Henry Terry, who asserts in a 150-page lawsuit that armed code enforcement officers were illegally empowered to serve as “constables” in the Village of Patchogue, and that they aggressively ticketed him and his customers for storing boats and marine equipment and forced him to abandon an expansion of his waterfront business.
“The defendants commenced a campaign of terror against the Plaintiff in an attempt to take his property, intimidate, coerce and otherwise violate his civil rights, by issuing the first of many appearance tickets against the Plaintiff,” read the complaint that he filed in 2005. The litigation is one of two cases before Mauskopf but both are related to what Terry calls a “constable policing scheme.”
Terry, former owner of Anything Marine, is represented by Bruce Vetri, a Bayport attorney who appeared before Mauskopf in her Brooklyn courtroom Aug. 6. Mauskopf adjourned the case to next month, citing overlap in the two cases and advising Terry and Vetri to merge the two matters into one case.
The Village of Patchogue, which declined to comment, is represented by Sokoloff Stern, a Westbury-based firm. Attorney Brian Sokoloff said Terry’s claims have no merit.
“If anybody has been harassing anybody, it’s Henry Terry who’s been harassing the village with frivolous lawsuits and repetitive Freedom of Information Law requests – and enough is enough,” said Sokoloff.
Sokoloff declined to discuss the substance of Terry’s claims.
Code enforcement officers, composed of housing inspectors, building inspectors and parking meter collectors, make citations on village ordinances governing quality of life issues ranging from recreational facilities to housing and some vehicle and traffic ordinances.
They are not empowered to arrest or cite people for state vehicle and traffic violations, a duty that has fallen to the County Police Department since Patchogue citizens voted to be protected by Suffolk police officers under the county’s charter.
In 2008, Mayor Paul Pontieri removed the code enforcement officers’ guns. And, last year, the village repealed the ordinance that authorized police powers for code enforcement officers.
Now, they operate like any other code enforcement agency, their purview restricted to quality of life issues such as parking violations and excessive noise.