By Stephen J. Kotz
Susan E. Guinchard-Kinsella, 54, of North Haven, who served as president of the Sag Harbor School Board until her loss in a tight election last year, was charged with a misdemeanor count of allowing underaged drinking during a party at her home on Barclay Drive on January 27, following Pierson’s annual Spirit Night celebration.
Southampton Town Police, in a press release issued at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, said they had gone to the home after receiving an anonymous tip through the New York State Police’s 866-UNDER21 hotline. Police said the responding officer could see young people consuming alcohol through a window but when they questioned Ms. Guinchard-Kinsella, she denied that there was a party and locked the doors.
Police said they remained at the scene and collected statements from people leaving the party and conducted a follow-up investigation before arresting Ms. Kinsella at her home on Friday, February 17.
SAFE in Sag Harbor, a group that until recently known as the Sag Harbor Coalition, issued a statement in the wake of Ms. Kinsella’s arrest, calling on “the community, and parents in particular,” to call the state police hotline whenever underaged drinking or drug use is suspected.
“Most importantly, SAFE in Sag Harbor is urging the community to take an active role in developing fun, engaging, and healthy activities so that the drug and alcohol parties do not happen in the first place,” the group’s statement continued.
Ms. Kinsella was charged with allowing alcohol consumption by persons under the age of 21, which is commonly referred to as violating the Suffolk County social host law.
On the night of the party, “the defendant was extremely uncooperative” and would not answer questions about her relationship to those holding the party, the police report stated.
“Arresting officer did observe subjects apparently under the age of 21 consuming alcohol and statements were taken from several individuals who were at said party confirming the defendant was, in fact, home and that there were underage subjects consuming alcohol,” the arrest report stated.
Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton attorney representing Ms. Kinsella, said his client was “absolutely, positively innocent” because she was not aware that there was any underaged drinking going on in her home that evening. “You can’t be held accountable for something you’re not aware of,” he said.
“She knew her daughter was having friends over. I’m not saying they weren’t drinking alcohol,” he added. “I’m saying she was not aware anyone was drinking.”
He suggested the police had a thin case because they did not charge her with endangering the welfare of children, a charge, he said, that is typically included in such cases.
Mr. Rodgers would not say whether or not Ms. Kinsella broke up the party after the police came.
Lieutenant Susan Ralph, a police department spokeswoman, said it did not matter if Ms. Kinsella was in the same room as those consuming alcohol. “The adult is responsible,” she said.
Lt. Ralph could not say why it took police three weeks to complete their investigation or whether additional charges could be forthcoming. The arresting officer, Todd Spencer, is attending training this week and was unavailable for comment.
Although the initial press release stated that Ms. Kinsella was charged with a violation, Lt. Ralph said that was an error, and she had, in fact, been charged with “an unclassified” misdemeanor.
Ms. Kinsella will be arraigned on the charge at Southampton Town Justice Court on March 10. Conviction on a first offense of violating the social host law is punishable by a fine of up to $500.