A Suffolk County police sergeant has been arrested on official misconduct and petty larceny charges after "targeting" Latinos in traffic stops and stealing cash from them, authorities said Friday.
Sixth Precinct Sgt. Scott A. Greene, who lives in Shirley, was caught in a videotaped sting mounted in Coram with an undercover Latino officer Thursday night, District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a news conference.
Investigators set up the sting to nab the 25-year veteran and began reviewing Greene's past traffic stops after two Latino men complained to police several months ago about being stopped in the Farmingville area -- part of the sergeant's beat. They told police that the officer took some cash from their pay envelopes, authorities said.
During the sting, an undercover officer drove past Greene, and when he stopped at a red light, the sergeant peered into the other vehicle, Spota said.
"In my view, he was looking at the driver because he was targeting Hispanics," Spota said.
After the light turned green, the sergeant pulled over the vehicle and told the motorist to stand behind the vehicle, the prosecutor said.
The video then shows the sergeant searching the vehicle and opening an envelope in plain sight on the front passenger seat. It contained $1,200 in $100 bills, stained with fluorescent paint, authorities said.
The sergeant folded one of the bills and slipped it into his sleeve, the video showed.
Greene, 50, was charged with official misconduct and petty larceny and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday. He was released on his own recognizance.
The officer's attorney, Tim Mazzei, of Blue Point, said he has known the sergeant and his wife for many years and does not believe that the officer targeted Hispanics.
"I know he's a decorated police officer," Mazzei said, "and needless to say, these allegations are very startling and very upsetting."
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber said he was disappointed.
"I am particularly outraged by his conduct -- of one who is sworn to protect he community and instead targeted those he perceived to be vulnerable," Webber said at the news conference.
Spota said investigators were talking Friday to a third victim. The district attorney did not say whether the first two victims identified or named Greene as the officer who pulled them over.
Greene, hired in 1989, was paid a base salary of $127,660 and got $19,537 in overtime in 2012, according to county records.
Mazzei, who is also a Brookhaven Town councilman, said he has not seen the video nor spoken at length with his client about the charges.
He said Greene's wife told him Friday that her husband was recently decorated by the police commissioner. Mazzei said he did not have details about the honors.
A call to Greene's home was not answered.
Spota said Greene could also be charged later with a hate crime. Authorities believe he chose Latino drivers because some may be undocumented immigrants who are reluctant to complain.
The officer's arrest comes after a December agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice, Suffolk County and its police department to address allegations of discriminatory policing against Latino immigrants. The deal came out of a federal probe that ensued from the 2008 killing in Patchogue of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a hate incident.
The accord, ratified by the County Legislature and signed by County Executive Steve Bellone, addressed concerns raised by advocates about traffic stops in minority communities partly by putting in requirements for sensitivity training of police officers and having the police department collect, analyze and annually report traffic-stop data going forward.
A spokesman for a coalition of community advocates said this case shows the need for reforms in the county's police force.
"If this incident is true it lends credence to the complaints that Latinos are targeted by the police for traffic stops and suggests that deliberate action has to be taken" to strengthen ties with the community and correct those practices, said Luis Valenzuela, director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, an Amityville group. "Clearly, there's reason to believe that the Suffolk County Police Department is taking these allegations seriously."
Karina Claudio, lead organizer with Latino community-advocacy group Make the Road New York in Brentwood, said in a statement that community leaders hope the arrest sends a strong message.
"We are shocked by the alleged incident . . . but pleased that the District Attorney has taken decisive action to stop it," said Claudio, adding that "we trust that today's arrest signals the County's seriousness in holding all officers accountable for any abuse of residents of our community."
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