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September 26, 2012

Trailer Suit Dismissed


It was tossed on a technicality.

Last week a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division overturned a prior decision and dismissed Southampton Town's lawsuit against Suffolk County involving the use and placement of trailers to house homeless sex offenders at two locations within the town.

In a unanimous decision, the panel ruled the town's complaint was time barred, meaning the challenge to the placement of trailers in Westhampton and Riverside wasn't initiated within prescribed timeframes for such actions.

Town officials sought injunctive relief prohibiting violations of local building and zoning codes, which Appellate judges deemed suitable for an Article 78 proceeding. Trouble is, the statute of limitations for filing an Article 78 is four months; the town's action was commenced two years after the trailers were installed.

"The County of Suffolk places every homeless sex offender, no matter where in the County they come from, in the Town of Southampton for emergency housing. It is a County-wide problem that our residents should not bear alone. The Town is now in the unenviable position that to preserve its rights, litigation must continue. It is unfair, it is unreasonable and it needs to be stopped now," stated Councilwoman Christine Scalera in a release reporting the dismissal.

According to the Town Attorney's office, the release continues, when the trailers were initially installed, "The town was assured by the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, in writing, that the trailers were only going to be located in Southampton Town on a temporary basis, and had confirmed that the trailers would be rotated throughout all the communities of Suffolk County. When the County subsequently refused to honor their promise to rotate the trailers, and took actions to make them more permanent, the Town brought a lawsuit within twenty-four hours of learning of the County's plans."

"The County Executive came to Southampton in May of this year and pronounced that the County was moving to implement a new plan that included dispersing the population of homeless sex offenders to more fairly distribute the burden," said Councilman Chris Nuzzi, a co-sponsor of the Town's resolution to commence litigation against the County in 2009. "As no action has been taken with the exception of the trailer being moved a few hundred yards in Westhampton, the Town has no choice but to continue to compel the County to finally take the action promised."

"This decision sets a bad precedent that any actions taken by the County within the Town must be met with immediate litigation, lest the Town's rights be prejudiced. That is not good for the Town or the County, and will only result in increased litigation costs to be shouldered by the taxpayers," added Councilwoman Bridget Fleming.

"Just a few months ago, the County Executive himself clearly stated his agreement that the current homeless sex offender trailer housing system is unfair and illogical, yet the court failed to examine the compelling merits of the case, and instead based its decision on a poorly applied technicality. My priority is to ensure the trailers are removed from their current locations. The Town will continue to litigate as needed, but I sincerely hope the County will bring this relief first – and soon," said Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

"The Town Board has authorized the Town Attorney's office to take whatever steps are necessary to overturn this misguided decision. Southampton Town residents have been shouldering a disproportionate share of this housing concern for far too long and it's time for the county to honor its promises to share this burden across all ten towns, not just Southampton," concluded Councilman Jim Malone.

The news comes on the heels of a September 13 report from the Southampton Town Police announcing the arrest of a Level 2 sex offender and a Level 3 offender who failed to comply with laws requiring them to register their current addresses. The STPD release included background information, noting Southampton Town currently has 84 registered sex offenders and houses the majority of homeless sex offenders in Suffolk County. The trailers typically house between 25 and 36 homeless sex offenders on a nightly basis. There's another site upisland that is also used.

In the past, all homeless sex offenders, no matter which DSS trailer they were assigned to, were mandated to register their address to the central DSS trailer located at 100 Center Drive in Riverhead. It acted as a main depository for all homeless sex offenders.

In April of 2012, Police Chief William Wilson assigned detectives the primary responsibility of record keeping, registering, and investigating all sex offenders living in Southampton Town jurisdiction. Under his direction, the system was revamped in order to keep more accurate address records and to keep the community informed of the specific whereabouts of homeless sex offenders.

Southampton Town and Suffolk County Special Victims Unit Detectives worked with the Department of Social Services to institute a more rigid and regular placement of the homeless sex offenders in all three of the DSS shelters. That meant the sex offenders' actual addresses were reported.

Last June the Westhampton DSS trailer that once housed eight homeless sex offenders was replaced with a larger trailer that accommodates up to 18 individuals. In effect, the move increased the sex offender population in the Town of Southampton by another 10 persons.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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