Village 'overreacted' by firing Rockville Centre police officer, PBA president says

Association looks to reinstate local cop after charge against him is dropped


Some are calling on the village to restore the job of a former Rockville Centre police officer who was fired after he was apparently falsely ac-cused in February of videotaping his then girlfriend during sex without her consent.

Christopher Stafford, 28, of East Meadow, was arrested on Feb. 10 and charged with second-degree un-lawful surveillance, according to police. But a Nassau County judge dismissed the charge on Sept. 19.

The unnamed victim learned of the video, according to the felony complaint, when Stafford forwarded a photo from it through Snapchat, news outlets reported. The complaint also reportedly stated that the officer recorded the video “for his own amusement, entertainment and sexual arousal.”

But the Nassau County district attorney’s office moved to dismiss the charge. “After an extensive investigation, it was determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for D.A. Madeline Singas.

“It was really the only choice available,” Stafford’s attorney, William Petrillo, said of the decision, noting that he turned over thousands of text messages to the D.A.’s office showing that the woman consented to the recording of the sexual encounter.

The two were romantically in-volved for about four months, according to Petrillo, and her claim was her reaction to the couple’s breakup. He added that the woman questioned whether she had given Stafford permission in a group text to her friends less than 24 hours after Stafford was arrested. “You could never proceed in a prosecution like that,” Petrillo said. “He was innocent.”

After his arrest, Stafford was suspended from the Police Department without pay, village spokeswoman Julie Scully had told the Herald. He was fired five days later, on Feb. 15, she said.

“During his period of probation with the village Police Department, a decision was made to terminate Officer Stafford,” Scully said on Sept. 19. “We have no further comment on the matter.” Petrillo noted that Stafford was in the final few weeks of his 18-month probation period.

Jim Carty, president of the Rockville Centre Police Benevolent Association, said the PBA would bring an Article 78 proceeding — used to appeal the decision of a state or local agency — to Nassau County Supreme Court this week in the hope of having Stafford reinstated.

“The village overreacted to an unnamed woman who conspired with friends to get an officer on probation fired because he was breaking up with her,” Carty said. He added that the PBA planned to go to homes and businesses to collect signatures for a petition that it intended to submit to the court.

Former Police Commissioner Charles Gennario, who led the department at the time of Stafford’s arrest, said he decided to suspend him without pay, but urged the village’s board of trustees not to fire him during a meeting several days after the arrest.

“There were a lot of questions surrounding the case, and instead of rushing to judgment, I said let’s give him due process,” Gennario said. “. . . I didn’t want to destroy somebody’s career before we had all the facts. There was no reason to terminate him.”

He called the termination “injustice” and said he would like to see Stafford return to the force. “He was a good kid,” Gennario said. “I knew him as a person. The board knew him as a body. I wanted to give him a chance.”

Stafford was sworn in at a ceremony in Village Hall on March 6, 2017. The Herald previously reported that he was born and raised in Nassau County, and was following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a police officer. Stafford was a corrections officer before joining the Police Department, and was a lieutenant in the East Meadow Fire Department.

“I don’t think he was [given] his due process before he was terminated,” said Andrew Williams, a close friend of Stafford’s and an ex-captain of the EMFD.

“He is a person who has dedicated his entire life to public service,” Williams added. “I think his record speaks volumes of who he is as a person and his character, and it’s a little upsetting that they didn’t give him the opportunity to prove his innocence. I think through this entire process, being able to clear his name and restore his character is important to him as well.”

Petrillo told the Herald, “We will exhaust any and all legal remedies available to fight for his job back.”

Brian Stieglitz contributed to this story.