Fri. Dec 1st, 2023

Suffolk County Police Department Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante has filed for retirement in an unexpected move that will close a 36-year career with the force, Newsday has learned.

Gigante, 56, submitted his papers amid an Internal Affairs investigation into an allegation of misconduct in a promotional process overseen by his office. A department spokeswoman said there was no connection between Gigante’s retirement and the investigation, which continues.

Gigante, set to leave the department in July, applied for pension benefits just as former Commissioner Geraldine Hart left and Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron took command of the force as acting commissioner. The department declined an interview request with Cameron, and Hart didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

In 2015, Cameron hand-picked Gigante to lead Suffolk’s 300-plus detectives as part of a broad reorganization following the resignation of former Chief James Burke in a corruption scandal.

Gigante was paid $302,179 in 2020, according to county payroll records.

Asked whether the investigation played a role in his decision to retire, Gigante wrote via text message: “My decision to retire is based on personal reasons. The time is right. I am proud of my accomplishments during my 36 years in the department and I look forward to what the future holds.”

Gigante has received 35 awards during his decades with the department. He is credited with creating the department’s first countywide gun and gang unit, the county’s first human trafficking unit and with leading the department’s response to MS-13 violence, according to department spokeswoman Dawn Schob.

Newsday reported May 3 that Hart ordered the Internal Affairs investigation after a sergeant who was seeking promotion to detective sergeant obtained five pages of questions and answers that were prepared for use in an interview-based selection process.

“An allegation of misconduct during a recent promotional process for detective sergeant was brought to my attention last month,” Hart stated then. “I immediately made an administrative referral to the Internal Affairs Bureau, and an investigation was initiated, and the promotional process was halted.”

Hart established the system in 2019 in response to U.S. Justice Department criticism that connections had often played a role in who was tapped for detective-level promotions.

An operational memo specified that a panel of high-ranking officers assigned to the chief of detectives’ office would interview each promotion candidate about “relevant laws and procedures,” then rate how the candidate performed.

The interview topics covered issues such as when police may legally conduct searches without warrants, when suspects have the right to a lawyer and how to handle a witness who comes forward after a suspect has been arrested.

As ordered by Hart, the interview panel’s supervisor, identified in the memo as a ranking member of the chief of detectives’ staff, kept a list of the topics, along with sample questions and answers that the panel could use to evaluate whether candidates answered questions correctly.

The order required the panel supervisor to discuss “the questions and expected responses” with a deputy chief before an interview. It also directed the panel supervisor to “meet with the panel members in advance of the interviews and assign and discuss topics and sample questions with them so they may re-familiarize themselves.”

The five typewritten pages constituted a portion of all the questions and answers. The sergeant who was up for possible promotion reported after he was interviewed by the panel that he had previously received the documents. Multiple ranking department sources identified him as Robert Strecker, assigned to the property section.

The Internal Affairs investigation is seeking to trace the document’s path from the chief of detectives’ office to Strecker.

Strecker did not respond to message Tuesday seeking comment.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), who got to know Gigante when he was commanding officer of the First Precinct in Babylon and McCaffrey was Lindenhurst’s deputy mayor, said Gigante is “above reproach in my mind in terms of honesty and decency.”

“When the smoke clears from the investigation, they’re going to say Gerry Gigante had nothing to do with this,” he said.

Babylon Supervisor Richard Schaffer, who is also Suffolk Democratic leader, said Gigante “single-handedly ran our town’s response to Superstorm Sandy” in 2012.

“He’s good at what he does,” Schaffer said. “And now that he’s available, I’m excited about exploring opportunities with him.”

Schaffer tried to hire Gigante in late January as a consultant to evaluate the town’s public safety division. Hart approved Gigante’s request to do the work. But after Newsday reported on the $50,000 contract, Hart put her approval on hold while she sought an ethics opinion. Babylon then backed out of the contract.

Gigante became embroiled in controversy in 2019, when Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini sought to appoint Gigante’s nephew, Salvatore Gigante, to run the DA’s squad of investigators.

Two competing candidates, one Black and one Hispanic, charged they were passed over even though they were more qualified.

Although police officials said Gerard Gigante removed himself from the promotion process, county law required the Suffolk County Legislature to vote on whether to grant a nepotism waiver. After an outside counsel hired by the Legislature concluded that Salvatore Gigante secured the job even though he lacked the minimum qualifications for the position, the Legislature did not approve the waiver.

Salvatore Gigante filed a lawsuit against the Suffolk Legislature in July seeking to overturn its vote not to grant the nepotism waiver. The lawsuit, which said the legislative process over the waiver “was steeped with extraordinary improprieties,” also sought repayment of the income he would have received in that role since he was denied it in 2019.

The county filed a motion to dismiss in August, saying “there is no basis” to overturn the Legislature’s decision. Two judges have since recused themselves and the current judge, state Supreme Court justice Martha Luft, has yet to rule on the county’s request.

By senior