Letter: Public Demands Positive Change for NHPFD

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If not now, when? That’s the million dollar question all should be asking when the New Hyde Park Fire District and Department comes to mind.

The final outcome of the federal court case filed by volunteer firefighters, both military veterans, Michael Dolan Sr. and Michael Jr., against the fire district and department has come to an end with a judgment and full verdict settlement of $900,000 including attorney’s fees.

In short, the Dolans were wrongfully charged with stealing smoke detectors, which were donated to the district by the Nassau County Firefighters Museum—through the efforts of Dolan, Sr.—which resulted in their wrongful arrest. All criminal charges were subsequently dropped when it was learned that the Dolans returned the smoke detectors to the Firefighters’ Museum after they learned that detectors had gone missing—with no explanation from the department or district.

The Dolans filed a federal civil suit for damages against the district and certain department members for their actions. A jury verdict determined that the charges should never have been brought—and found that the district and certain department members were guilty of malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The jury awarded $550,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages against certain district members including: former Richard Stein, John DiVello, John Brown and current commissioner Michael Bonura. After the federal judge upheld the ruling, defendants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. During settlement negotiations, both sides reached a $900,000 settlement.

This jury-verdict vindicates the Dolans from any wrongdoing and confirms that the district, and defendants: former Stein, DiVello, Brown and Bonura—were guilty of wrongdoing. This decision—and prior decisions by the Supreme Court of the State of New York and the Appellate Division, including the Nassau County District Attorney in the criminal case—represents a “clean sweep” of years of litigation by the Dolans against the failed efforts of district and department officials.

As a sitting commissioner, Commissioner Michael Bonura’s guilty verdict dictates that he conducted himself in a manner unbecoming of a firefighter and an elected official. District residents and taxpayers can call on Commissioner Bonura to resign, effective immediately, from his post—or be forcefully removed by judicial intervention pursuant to Article 36 of the New York Public Officers Law after a request filed by a district resident. Moreover, Commissioner Bonura and the other existing guilty defendants: John Divello and John Brown—should be removed from the Department as well, for actions unbecoming of a firefighter.

Additionally, the removal of district counsel, Mr. Joseph Frank, is warranted considering the actions of the board came under the supervision of district counsel—when, in my opinion—counsel was all along aware of the illegality of the district’s actions and turned a blind eye. A review of Mr. Frank’s retention should be undertaken by the Board immediately.

The district board is to revise its procedures with respect to the publication of meeting minutes. It was disclosed during the trial that meeting minutes went missing concerning the closing of the HER Room—which was an important part of the trial. I have previously discussed that meeting minutes were being fabricated—and the board did nothing. The time has come for the Board to immediately adopt an online repository for meeting minutes—in response to the public’s previously submitted formal petition (with 512 signatures) requesting same. As it is, the district residents have become victim, too, of the board’s malicious and petty behavior. They deserve far better than this.

—Deirdre Dolan  

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