Prom Parties Revive Social Host Law Debate


SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING’S BOOZY

So how bad is the teen drinking problem on LI? Look no further than the police blotter.

Fatalities and alcohol poisoning cases aside, between the 36 Suffolk social host law cases and 60 in Nassau over the past five years, some read like an episode of World’s Dumbest Criminals. This is true especially for those incidents on the East End, where the five town police departments are not included in Suffolk police statistics.


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Last July, an 18-year-old man was charged with driving while intoxicated with a child as a passenger, a felony under Leandra’s Law, after police said he drove a go-kart with two friends from a Shelter Island party allegedly hosted by another 18-year-old accused of violating the social host law.

In June, two men were charged under the social host law after police responded to a party at a house rented by Connetquot High School students in Remsenburg in the Hamptons, where an 18-year-old man was found unconscious and vomiting blood.

“You have to act like the parent,” says Lt. Michael S. Murphy of the Suffolk police Sixth Precinct Crime Section. “You can’t be their best friend. A parent’s responsibility sometimes is to say ‘no’ to their child.”

A Bayville man, for one, apparently didn’t get that memo. He was ticketed after police said he provided beer for his son’s 17th birthday party, where one of nearly 100 attendees was taken to a hospital for alcohol poisoning in October 2010. The sick 16-year-old admitted drinking vodka, police said at the time.

Suffolk police found a 20-year-old Selden man regularly charging $5 at the door for college parties that included numerous teens in January 2009. Later that month, a 53-year-old woman was charged after a minor was treated for alcohol poisoning at her West Islip home.

A 19-year-old Baldwin man was nabbed after a teen was smashed over the head with a beer bottle and beaten at an underage drinking party in May 2009, fracturing the victim’s neck. Four months later, a 30-year-old Roslyn Heights woman was summonsed when police said they found a 14-year-old boy unconscious in her driveway.

And in June 2008, a 48-year-old Valley Stream woman and her two 17-year-old children were arrested for throwing a graduation party with nearly 150 in attendance, where one teen was treated for alcohol poisoning.

That case showed that not every social host law charge filed by police sticks.

“I have no objection to the law itself, just how it gets enforced,” says Daniel Friedman, a Mineola-based attorney who is president of the Nassau County Criminal Courts Bar Association. He successfully had the charge dismissed for one of the teens, whom he represented in the Valley Stream case.

The first two alleged violations of the social host law this year came within an hour of one another May 13, after Nassau County police officers responded to loud parties in Lake Success and Merrick. Pamela Leff, 51, was summonsed in the first case; 19-year-old James Valle in the second, after allegedly resisting arrest. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Social host cases aren’t exclusive to criminal court. Mark Freeley, a Woodbury-based personal injury attorney, is representing a man who’s suing an 18-year-old Farmingville woman who threw a house party where his client suffered a broken jaw after being punched in the face in March 2010.

Freeley reads back the woman’s text message invite, which was then forwarded to others: “‘Huge party tonight… DJ, kegs, beer pong, flip cup, liquor. $6 for dudes, $3 for ladies.’”

Between 150 and 200 people showed up before a brawl broke out, the attorney says. The 18-year-old’s father was out of town at the time. No social host law charges were filed, but Freeley believes he can prove the young woman was negligent under the social host law.

If a jury agrees, they could award damages, although Freeley is not seeking a specific dollar amount. His client’s jaw was wired shut for months during his recovery.

“It’s a good warning to the kids,” he says. “You send one text out, that goes to a friend and that friend sends that text to 10 people and all of a sudden you’ve got 150 people you don’t know in your living room. And you know what? Something bad is going to happen if there’s alcohol.”

Not that the threat of arrest should be underestimated next to the possibility of a lawsuit.

“Students should have graduation and pre-prom parties. What they shouldn’t have is alcohol at these parties,” says Det. Michael Bitsko, a Nassau police spokesman. The department has a zero tolerance policy for anyone serving alcohol to minors. “We’ll intensify patrols in the back streets of our neighborhoods looking for such parties and checking to make sure that alcohol is not being served.”

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