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Latino group meets with Suffolk County DA over justice issues

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, right, arrives for a court appearance in the case against Rex Heuermann, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
John Minchillo
Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, right, arrives for a court appearance.

An advocacy group that supports Latino residents on eastern Long Island is urging local court and police officials to increase transparency.

Organización Latino Americana, known as OLA, met with Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney and judges from the New York state court system earlier this month. OLA is concerned that the different policies for local law enforcement and court systems are difficult for non-native English speakers to understand.

Many towns and villages on the East End have their own police departments and justice courts with their own procedures — in addition to the Suffolk County police department, as well as county and state courts.

“You could be living in one town or village and be driving through four or five other municipalities to get to work,” said OLA’s executive director Minerva Perez. “It is important for people to understand the guidelines or rules that might apply to one town or village. And that can also come through the municipalities because they might have certain codes on the book.”

Perez said the meeting allowed the group to gain a better understanding of how officials work around language barriers, and where to focus the organization’s resources.

In particular, an issue the group is working on is wage theft. Perez said wage theft targets many seasonal workers, who see the summertime as their biggest opportunity to generate revenue.

After holding the discussion with local courts, administrative judges agreed to reconsider the monetary cap on small claims courts to go above the current limit of $3,000, which Perez said will make it easier for those impacted by wage theft to claw back their funds.

“What we see, and have seen just recently, is that a large number of folks have not been paid,” Perez said. “And what it is, is a sort of incremental holding back of wages, to the point of folks having easily over the course of a summer season $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 [in lost wages].”

In the future, Perez said that the group will continue to combat lingering disruptions to Latino residents caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said residents have had lingering housing and financial needs for more than three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Well, I think it’s pretty clear that it’s still a flowing need coming from the pandemic and the lack of housing, the level of desperation for consistent jobs out here, to the tune that we haven’t seen before,” she said.

Sky Crabtree is a news intern at WSHU for the spring of 2024.