Former Chief’s FOIL Lawsuit Dismissed

Former East Hampton Village top cop Gerard Larsen’s lawsuit seeking the release of police personnel records under Freedom of Information Law was thrown out by a Riverhead court on April 26.

Larsen, who retired in 2017, first sued the village last August claiming officials unfairly interfered with his side security business, Protec, when they prevented him from using village residents as clients. He claimed Mayor Paul Rickenbach and Trustee Richard Lawler were involved with similar security businesses in competition with his own and used their positions to abuse their power.

The alleged interference cost him thousands of dollars, according to his suit, which was filed in federal court.

A second lawsuit was filed seeking the release of records relating to employees’ moonlighting habits. The lawsuit sought documents related to a 2009 inquiry by the village into ethics code violations preventing conflicts of interest with outside employment.

The documents included communications between the board of trustees and employees, meeting minutes, records of village board members’ outside employment, and documents implicating the board members’ ethical violations.

Some records were released; others were not because the village deemed them to be protected under section 50-A of Civil Rights Law. Justice Martha Luft agreed, concluding the records were protected because they could contain information indicating an officer violated the ethics code, making the person eligible for suspension or termination.

In her three-page decision, Luft cited a legal case in which an upstate newspaper, The Daily Gazette, was denied records by the City of Schenectady and the denial was upheld in court.

“If a document related to an officer’s public employment may be used ‘in litigation to harass, embarrass, degrade or impeach [that] officer’s integrity,’ then it is protected by Section 50-A,” she stated.

Larsen’s attorney James Wicks, of Manhattan, released the following statement last Friday: “This is a complex matter being litigated in both state and federal courts made necessary by Paul Rickenbach’s pervasive conflict of interest as set forth in our papers. In response to our filing the Article 78 proceeding, and while the matter was pending in court, the village ultimately produced most of the records we sought. It is abundantly clear, and truly unfortunate, that Mr. Rickenbach continues to force taxpayers to pay the cost of defending his improper actions.”

Rickenbach contended the court’s decision affirms the village’s position “relating to transparency and complying with the law,” in a statement released Friday.

He referred to Larsen’s lawsuit as “simply an attempt by a disgruntled and litigious former employee to discredit the policies and procedures that the village and every other municipality must adhere to when it comes to police personnel record access.”

“The village is required to timely comply with record requests under FOIL, while also protecting the privacy rights of police officers whose personnel records are exempt from disclosure under law.

The fact that a former Chief of Police was unable to appreciate that basic concept is ironic, and unfortunately, a substantial expense to the village’s taxpayers who had to defend this frivolous suit,” Rickenbach concluded.

Attorneys for the village filed papers seeking the dismissal of Larsen’s initial suit and they are waiting for the court’s decision, according to Village Administrator Rebecca Molinaro-Hansen.

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