Brannen Found Not Guilty of Harassment

John Brannen outside his Wilson Place home in Ninevah. Peter Boody photo

Sag Harbor Village Justice Lisa R. Rana found John Brannen, a longtime resident of the Ninevah community in Sag Harbor, not guilty of two counts of second-degree harassment in a written decision handed down on October 27 following a two-hour trial on September 14.

Justice Rana found the complainant, construction worker Connor Kentoffio — who alleged that Mr. Brannen had threatened to beat him up and shoot him during an altercation outside the Brannen home on Wilson Place on April 17, 2017 — had not been forthright in his testimony “regarding his own conduct during this verbal dispute” and also had failed to correctly identify Mr. Brannen as the defendant during the trial, which the judge wrote “troubled” her.

“With regard to the alleged threat that Mr. Brannen would get a gun and shoot Mr. Kentoffio, the Court finds that there is insufficient evidence to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt,” Justice Rana wrote. She also ruled “there was no evidence of any physical contact,” the basis for one count of the charge.

Commenting on the decision in a phone interview last week, Mr. Brannen said, “My perspective on this thing from the very beginning was astonishment that I can live in a community as long as I have and have no detrimental characteristics in my personality and in my relationship with Sag Harbor. And for this new regime of police and justices that have now taken place in the village, I didn’t want this to ever happen to me and I never want it to happen to anyone else in the future.”

He said he had refused to accept a plea deal in which “they asked me to accept anger management and all charges” would have been dropped “after six months, like I was guilty.”

Mr. Brannen was arrested on the basis of Mr. Kentoffio’s allegations at the scene of the altercation by Sag Harbor Village Police Officer Randy Steyert, who testified at the trial that he had found Mr. Brannen “yelling and screaming” and Mr. Kentoffio “slumped over” behind a van “and very soft-spoken” and unable to make eye contact.

Mr. Brannen, who said the officer never took a statement from him or his wife, sought to dismiss the charges in 2017 but, after a long delay, Justice Rana allowed the case to proceed. He also applied to Justice Rana to modify an order of protection Mr. Kentoffio had obtained against him from Justice Janine M. Rayano so he wouldn’t be a captive in his own house, he said in the interview last week. Justice Rana changed a distance limit he was supposed to maintain from Mr. Kentoffio, who was working on the property behind the Brannen house, to a requirement that he not approach Mr. Kentoffio or seek him out, Mr. Brannen said.

In her October 27 decision, Justice Rana found Mr. Brannen’s testimony “forthcoming to the extent that he admitted that he is fed up with what he perceives as unfettered development in the small neighborhood in which he resides and it is clear by his testimony and his demeanor that he is angry that such development is being allowed.”

She noted that he admitted to “threatening to impede construction workers’ ability to gain access to the job sites, although there is no evidence that he has actually done same …”

In testimony that was often inaudible to Mr. Brannen’s group of supporters in the Village Hall meeting room in September, Mr. Kentoffio claimed Mr. Brannen had angrily approached and confronted him as he was directing his father, who was at the wheel of a large flatbed trailer attempting to turn a corner to a nearby construction site. He said Mr. Brannen stood inches from his face and threatened to “kick his ass” and “go back in the house, get a gun and shoot him.”

Asked to identify the person who had threatened him, Mr. Kentoffio pointed to William Pickens, who was seated in the gallery. Mr. Brannen was seated in a tan suit at the defense table next to his attorney, Sheila Giuffrida.

Mr. Brannen denied ever threatening Mr. Kentoffio. He testified that his wife had called to Mr. Kentoffio from a window to stop making noise and damaging the community’s roads. When Mr. Kentoffio responded with a curse, the “N” word and a lewd hand gesture, Mr. Brannen testified, he went outside to confront him while his wife called police.

Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that he owned a number of rifles, shotguns and a BB gun, which Mr. Brannen said last week the police had confiscated after Mr. Kentoffio obtained the order of protection.