Lt. James Kiernan, one of the Southampton Town Police Department’s top officials, faced internal affairs investigators in March 2012 with an audio recorder capturing his answers and his credibility on the line.
At issue was when Kiernan knew that Police Officer Eric Sickles was abusing prescription pills and what he did to address it.
The officer’s addiction would erupt into an embarrassing public scandal when the Suffolk County district attorney’s office asked judges to vacate the drug convictions of at least seven people, including five who filed false-arrest lawsuits against the town.
Police Chief William Wilson Jr. had made Kiernan, Sickles’ direct supervisor and a man with influence in local politics, the focus of the investigation into what went wrong. Kiernan ultimately claimed vindication and blamed Wilson for unfairly targeting him after Southampton’s town board ended Kiernan’s unpaid suspension and sent him back to work commanding the patrol division at Long Island’s fifth-largest law enforcement agency.
But confidential documents and taped interviews from the internal affairs investigation show that Kiernan quietly made an unauthorized personnel move — without creating any paper trail — that let Sickles continue police work while in the grip of a destructive addiction. Kiernan also failed to act decisively to ensure that Sickles was not a danger to himself and others, despite a direct plea from Sickles’ distressed wife that her husband needed help, the records and interviews show.
After fellow officers contradicted Kiernan’s version of events on numerous occasions, Wilson charged Kiernan with lying to the internal affairs investigators about his actions, according to the records.
Southampton’s town board did not publicly reveal the results of the investigation when it reinstated Kiernan, and law enforcement agencies use New York’s 50-a law to keep officer misconduct investigations hidden from the public. A source provided the materials to Newsday on the condition of anonymity, offering the public a rare look at a Long Island law enforcement agency’s investigation into one of its officers.
The records provided to Newsday detail 32 departmental charges that Wilson filed against Kiernan, including 12 stating that he lied to investigators. It was the kind of rebuke that could forever stain or even end a career in law enforcement, where cases can be won or lost on the credibility of an officer.
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