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Request to DOJ: Expand Suffolk County Discrimination Probe

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Monday, March 14, 2011   

NEW YORK - Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department are set to meet today with at least a dozen civil and immigrant rights groups, who are asking the feds to expand an investigation of the Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island.

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, published the 2009 "Climate of Fear Report" on treatment of Latino immigrants, which he says provides evidence that Suffolk County officials contributed substantially to racial tension and violence. Now, Potok says County Executive Steve Levy is openly feuding with a top police officer in the Hate Crimes Unit, and Potok believes the Justice Department needs to step in.

"And in fact, something looked terribly wrong in the way that this unit was operating and the way hate crimes were being investigated. So, it does seem to me that this is a part of the Patterns and Practices Investigation of the Department of Justice."

The long-time commander of the Hate Crimes Unit, Detective-Sergeant Robert Reecks, was demoted in January. He says that shortly after taking office in 2004 the Levy administration reclassified what qualified as a hate crime. The administration in turn has denied wrongdoing and lodged a series of complaints against Reecks.

Maryann Slutsky, director of the group Long Island Wins, says it doesn't make a difference whether you believe the County Executive or the former head of the Hate Crimes Unit. In her view, both sides indicate that the current system of policing hate crimes in Suffolk County is broken.

"Both leaderships are fighting with each other. It seems like the Hate Crimes Unit is in chaos, and their ability to appropriately handle and report on hate crimes is thwarted by the interference of the County Executive. "

Representatives from local and national civil rights groups are expected to hold a news conference after this morning's meeting with Justice Department officials.

The Justice Department meeting is this morning at Federal Plaza in Central Islip; the news conference should follow around noon.

There's more on the web at bit.ly/fz6ARW




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