An ongoing scandal that has been plaguing the New Hyde Park Fire Department (NHPFD) since 2012 came to a close on Wednesday, March 30, resulting in the vindication of plaintiffs Michael Dolan Sr. and son Michael Dolan Jr., two volunteer members of the department.
Dolan Sr., a former Vietnam combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, and Dolan Jr., a Marine who had just returned from a second tour in Iraq at the time of the incident, have spent nearly five years defending themselves in the face of wrongful conviction.
“It was their liberty that was unjustly taken from them,” said Rick Ostrove, the Dolans’ attorney. “The jury came back and agreed with us, that their liberty was unjustly taken, that they were subjected to a malicious prosecution, that the defendants abused the legal system, and they awarded our clients $625,000 in damages. We are proud of the verdict and my clients are ecstatic that after years they are finally vindicated.”
The unanimous verdict, a major victory for the father and son accused of grand larceny, was reached after years of suits and countersuits revolving around the disappearance of fire detectors intended to be used for a program that would distribute them to senior citizens within the area.
In June 2012, a total of 150 smoke detectors, donated by the Nassau County Fire Museum for the program, were put in the hands of Dolan Sr., an elected commissioner of the department at the time, who put them in a secure room accessable only by other commissioners with an electronic key.
When he noticed some had gone missing, he transported the remaining detectors to his private residence. Shortly after, Richard Stein, who was and still is an acting commissioner, requested that Dolan Sr. return them. He acted accordingly, but continued to notice the disappearance of more detectors.
Dolan Sr. then recruited his son Dolan Jr. to help him retrieve what was left, after which they distributed 24 detectors to seniors and returned the rest to the Fire Museum, fearing a lack of accountability in the department.
Stein then reported to the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) that Dolan Sr. had stolen 65 smoke detectors, totaling $3,250 at $50 a piece, differing from the initial $10 cost originally stated by the Fire Museum.
“Even though the fire commissioners knew who took them, knew what happened… they called the cops,” said Ostrove. “Not only did they call the cops, but when the cops came to the firehouse, they lied to the cops, and they signed a sworn statement lying about the amount of detectors that were taken, and lying about the value of those detectors. They made it like it was some kind of break-in, and that the cops should look at the video, and the cops should arrest whoever committed this crime.”
Following an investigation by the NCPD, the two were arrested for third-degree grand larceny and detained for a total of 21 hours.
The Nassau County District Attorney dropped the charges against both Dolans, citing that there was no “reasonable cause to believe that the defendant committed a misdemeanor” and that there was “insufficient evidence to proceed to trial,” but the NHPFD fired back with departmental charges against the father/son duo.
In defense, the Dolans filed a countersuit for malicious prosecution, which they won.
Dolan Sr. and Jr. have since been reinstated as members of the New Hyde Park Fire Department, and have been awarded a total of $625,000, with Dolan Sr. receiving $150,000 in emotional damages and $30,000 in punitive damages, and Dolan Jr. receiving $400,000 in emotional damages and $45,000 in punitive damages.
“I’m very thankful the bad experience is gone,” said Dolan Sr. “When you get a cut, you’ll always have a scar, but I want to thank the firm for what they did for me and my family.”
The younger Dolan, who is currently also a volunteer with the New York City Fire Department, declined to comment.
He and his father hope that the NHPFD, with which they still proudly serve, will recognize its wrongs and put the situation to rest. The department does have the right to appeal.
The NHPFD declined to comment on the outcome of the case.