DA ‘relieved no officers hurt during standoff’ in Wading River

Thomas Counihan, Thomas Spota, Wading River, East End Drug
EAST END DRUG TASK FORCE PHOTO | Drugs police say they recovered from Thomas Counihan’s bedroom after a standoff with him Tuesday night.

A gunshot was fired by a law enforcement officer Tuesday night during a probation visit to the Wading River home of a man prosecutors once called “the biggest drug dealer in Southampton,” officials said.


Thomas Counihan, 60, an ex-convict with a long criminal history dating back almost 30 years, “displayed a weapon” after a probation officer and a Riverhead police officer — both serving with the DA’s East End Drug Task Force — found drugs during a visit to his home on Wading River-Manor Road, according to the DA’s office and sources familiar with the investigation.

One of the law enforcement officers fired a shot, but did not strike Mr. Counihan.

Mr. Counihan, who was then taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center psychiatric unit after the incident, was initially visited by police Tuesday night after he had failed to show up for a probation appointment and drug test, said a source.

Mr. Counihan was acting strangely, and upon questioning admitted to possessing a quantity of marijuana in his bedroom. Officers soon learned he had heroin, cocaine, pills and marijuana, the source said.

When asked about whether he had prescriptions for the pills, he responded by pulling a loaded Colt .45 from his bed, first pointing the gun toward his own face and then chest while the two officers drew their guns, a source said and officials later confirmed.

An officer fired the shot after Mr. Counihan began to point the weapon away from himself — and toward the officers.

The shot missed, but Mr. Counihan hit the floor anyway and was subdued by the officers, who took his gun.

PHOTO BY EAST END DRUG TASK FORCE | Authorities found 250 bags of heroin labeled “Invasion” at Mr. Counihan’s home Tuesday night.

Police recovered 250 bags of heroin in his room packaged for sale, about two ounces of cocaine, a large bag of marijuana, a syringe and nine unlabeled prescription bottles containing prescription pills, said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

“It is clear the police officer’s discharge of his weapon, given the circumstances, was justified,” said Mr. Spota, adding that Mr. Counihan will be charged with criminal possession of a loaded handgun and possession of heroin, cocaine and marijuana upon his release from Stony Brook.

“We are relieved that the two East End Drug Task Force officers were not injured during the standoff with this dangerous, violent felon,” Mr. Spota added.

Records show Mr. Counihan has 17 prior arrests, including eight for felonies. He has been convicted six times, including four felony convictions.

Members from various departments involved with the DA’s East End Drug Task Force responded to the scene Tuesday night, with at least three different law enforcement agency members taking part in a nine-hour overnight investigation.

None of the agencies had commented publicly as of 1 p.m. Wednesday, when the News-Review broke news of the police-involved shooting.

Detectives spent much of the night interviewing three witnesses who also live in the home, including Mr. Counihan’s daughter, Samantha, 23. The witnesses declined comment Tuesday night and again when a reporter returned to the home after investigators left Wednesday morning.

About a dozen law enforcement vehicles lined the narrow street in front of the home, which is located between Routes 25 and 25A, causing neighbors and passersby to stop frequently in the overnight hours.

“I asked [police] if there’s anything I should be concerned about,” said one neighbor. “They said ‘no.’ When I asked what was going on, they said it was a crime scene.”

The investigation at the house stretched from about 9 p.m. Tuesday until after 6 a.m. Wednesday.

More than a dozen law enforcement officers combed the sprawling, manicured property during the probe, examining a trailer in the driveway and using a ladder to climb into a treehouse on the south side of the residence. Police tape lined the perimeter of the residence.

The home is owned by Mr. Counihan’s mother, Josephine, 85, of Southampton, who said she had been notified of the police activity but was not aware of any details.

“I know nothing,” she said. “I pray to God that all is well, but I doubt it. Tommy basically is a very wonderful person, but I guess he has evil sickness.”

Ms. Counihan also owned her son’s previous residence at 890 Noyac Road in Noyac, which Southampton police raided on July 22, 1988, leading to the arrest of Mr. Counihan for selling cocaine to an undercover agent, records show. That home was later seized by the government under federal forfeiture laws.

After time served in state prison, Mr. Counihan was arrested in June 1997 for allegedly firing what police described as a machine gun in an attempt to intimidate people inside his parents’ home on Sebonac Road in Southampton, according to a report published in The Southampton Press. Additionally, he was charged with endangering the welfare of a child who was in the house at the time of the shooting.

He was arrested again in March 2002, in what was called “the biggest heroin bust the Southampton Town Street Crime Unit” had made at the time, when he was caught injecting a heavy dose of heroin with 250 packets of the narcotic in his car, according to The Press.

Investigators said they had been watching Mr. Counihan’s drug-related activity for six months at the time of his 2002 arrest.

Mr. Counihan was sentenced in January 1985 to two years in prison for an 1984 armed robbery at a store in Shirley, according to state records and probation officials.

In August 1977, a jury found him not guilty of killing an endangered bald eagle the year before, according to the New York Times.

The DA’s Drug Task Force is made up of members from a dozen law enforcement agencies, including the DA’s office, State Police, Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Department of Probation and several town and village police departments, including Riverhead and Southampton towns.

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The News-Review first reported this story early Wednesday afternoon and updated it that night after a district attorney release.

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | Police tape lined the property of Thomas Counihan’s residence in Wading River Tuesday night. A shot was fired by a law enforcement officer when Mr. Counihan displayed a weapon after drugs were found during a probation officer’s visit.