‘Animal lover’ barred from Riverhead dog shelter

SOUTHAMPTON PRESS COURTESY PHOTO | Pat Lynch, shown in 2007 with a rescue dog she had adopted, successfully sued Southampton Town after she was banned from the town's animal shelter. She's now not allowed on the Riverhead shelter property.

Pat Lynch has now been banned from two East End animal shelters.

A self-described animal lover, Ms. Lynch, of Southampton, who successfully sued Southampton Town after she was banned from volunteering at its shelter years back, was just notified by Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller that she is now banned from volunteering at the Riverhead Animal Shelter.

“Your services as a Riverhead Town Animal Shelter volunteer have been terminated effective immediately,” the chief wrote to Ms. Lynch Friday, Jan. 14. “You are also no longer permitted to be on the animal shelter grounds.”

The letter gives no reason for the ban, but comes days after Ms. Lynch questioned Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s public explanation that a dog from the shelter named Bruno was euthanized because it bit a child. Ms. Lynch subsequently obtained a copy of the county health department’s report on the bite from Councilman Jim Wooten. The report shows that the dog did not bite a child, but bit its 22-year-old owner, who was breaking up a fight between it and another dog. The bite wounds were described as “superficial.”

Ms. Lynch subsequently made that report public by giving it to the News-Review.

Asked Monday to elaborate on the decision, Chief Hegermiller said, “She was not an asset to the shelter and her services were no longer needed.” He added there were several factors that went into the decision, but that he was not going to release them until he first speaks with Ms. Lynch.

“I was banned because of what I said about Bruno and the so-called bite he gave to a child,” Ms. Lynch said. “[Supervisor] Walter was furious because it made him look bad. And I have no regrets giving [the News-Review] the paper Jim Wooten got for me.
“It needed to come out,” she said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he had nothing to do with Ms. Lynch being banned, saying it was entirely the chief’s call. Mr. Wooten said the suspension was due to Ms. Lynch’s suggestion at a public meeting that dogs at the shelter may have the disease parvo, which town officials say is untrue.

Ms. Lynch and other shelter volunteers have been critical of the town’s running of the shelter and, in particular, of animal control officer Lou Coronesi.

Last week’s letter was not the first the police chief has sent Ms. Lynch. She said that on Dec. 13, Chief Hegermiller sent her a letter accusing her of acting “inappropriately” toward Mr. Coronesi on two occasions, one in an alleged Nov. 24 confrontation at the shelter and the other pertaining to “unfounded allegations” she made about him at a Nov. 15 shelter advisory meeting in Town Hall.

Ms. Lynch says she has a witness to refute the Nov. 15 allegation, and denies getting into a confrontation with Mr. Coronesi. She says there are no witnesses to the alleged Nov. 24 incident.

At the same Jan. 4 Town Board where Ms. Lynch publicly questioned the circumstances surrounding Bruno’s death, Gail Waller of Glen Cove, who says she has donated thousands of dollars to help shelter dogs, also made public a 2003 arrest of Mr. Coronesi in Arizona for illegally taking a gila monster, which is an endangered species.

The women have called for Mr. Coronesi’s firing.

Ms. Lynch was a television reporter for NBC news for 17 years and for CBS news for another 10 years, and won two Emmy Awards for investigative reporting at NBC. In 2004, she was banned for volunteering at the Southampton Town animal shelter and filed a federal lawsuit, claiming her first amendment rights were being violated. In 2007, the court ruled in her favor, initially awarding her $251,000 but later reducing the award to $50,000.

Since then, Southampton Town’s animal shelter has been taken over in part by a private, nonprofit organization, although the animal control function is still run by the town. Ms. Lynch said her application to volunteer at that shelter was denied last year, and she has subsequently filed another lawsuit, which is still pending in the courts.

She insists she has no intention of suing Riverhead Town.

Mr. Walter said on Tuesday that it was Mr. Coronesi who told him Bruno bit a child.

“I’m only as good as the information given to me, and in this case, it wasn’t too good,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Wooten said he has requested that the Town Board undertake a disciplinary hearing to determine where the misinformation came from and why there was such urgency to euthanize the dog, despite a Dec. 15 report from Mr. Coronesi saying the dog showed great improvement, and another report from him the next day saying it should be euthanized.

Mr. Walter had no comment on that, saying it is a personnel issue.

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