Construction Disagreement Leads to Arrest, Trial, for Ninevah Resident

John Brannen at his home in Ninevah. Peter Boody photo.

After a two-hour trial, Sag Harbor Village Justice Lisa Rana reserved decision Friday on charges of second-degree harassment against John Brannen, a retired New York City fireman arrested by Sag Harbor Village Police Officer Randy Steyert on April 19, 2017 after a confrontation with a construction worker on the street outside Mr. Brannen’s Wilson Place home.

Mr. Brannen, who has lived in Ninevah for nearly 30 years and whose father was a Sag Harbor village trustee and whose mother served on the Planning Board, is accused of threatening to beat up and shoot the worker, Connor Kentoffio, 20.

In testimony that was often inaudible to Mr. Brannen’s group of supporters in the Village Hall meeting room, 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.”

When 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.

Village Police received three calls, one reporting a domestic incident, another reporting a verbal dispute and another about construction noise, according to Officer Steyert, who also testified. When he arrived on the scene and turned his patrol car around at the corner of Wilson Place and Taft Street, Mr. Brannen aggressively stepped in front of his vehicle, placed his hands on the hood and yelled “f___ you” at him, Officer Steyert said, adding he told Mr. Brannen he would be arrested if he didn’t get out of the way.

The officer said he “proceeded 100 feet” up the road to speak to Mr. Kentoffio, whom he found behind a white construction van “slumped over and very soft-spoken and wouldn’t make eye contact.” The officer said he explained to Mr. Kentoffio that he could make a civilian arrest by signing a complaint against Mr. Brannen. He then walked back to Mr. Brannen to speak to him.

“I thought he might be an emotionally disturbed person, yelling and screaming, unable to make any kind of conversation,” Officer Steyert testified, “at which point” Mr. Brannen told him he was on “anger medication.” Officer Steyert said he placed him in handcuffs, which prompted Mr. Brannen to complain that the situation was “racist,” and transported him to police headquarters, where the officer met the complainant, who signed the arrest paperwork and made a formal statement, according to Officer Steyert.

During his “processing” at headquarters, Mr. Brannen complained that his neighborhood “was being demolished” by “lots of construction” and that he wanted Mr. Kentoffio arrested, Officer Steyert said, adding that he had found “nothing” to justify charging him.

In her closing arguments, Mr. Brannen’s attorney, Ms. Giuffrida, said her client had acted “as anyone would” and never harassed or threatened Mr. Kentoffio. The fact that he had identified the wrong person in the courtroom “seriously calls into question Mr. Kentoffio’s credibility. He clearly doesn’t remember who he had the confrontation with.” Noting that there was a previous confrontation in February of 2017, she said Mr. Kentoffio “had continued to work near my client,” which he would not have done if he felt threatened.

She argued that Officer Steyert had taken no statements from anybody at the scene other than Mr. Kentoffio and had “made up his mind when he arrived he was going to arrest somebody.”

The assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, whose name was not audible to the gallery, said it was not an issue that Mr. Kentoffio had pointed to the wrong person because he later corrected himself. Declaring that the charges against him had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt by her witnesses, she attempted to raise doubts about Mr. Brannen’s credibility by playing a 911 recording in which he immediately complained to the dispatcher — who was calling to follow up on Mrs. Brannen’s previous call — about construction trucks damaging the roads in his neighborhood. He had previously denied having done so.