Thursday, October 16, 2008
Pleasantville Police Detective Sergeant
Stephen Bonura Remains Suspended
For Exercising His Right Of Free Speech
It’s been nearly five months since a highly regarded police offi-cer with 27 years of experience was suspended from duty, with pay,
for voicing his opinion regarding the actions of the Westchester District Attorney’s Office with respect to a persistent felon with a long record of arrests and several convictions, in some instances involving guns and acts of violence. Officer Stephen Bonura’s observations involving the handling of convicted felon Kahill Gonzalez were clearly justi-fied in light of the persistent nature of his offenses and arrests in, and around, the Village of Pleasantville, and the fact that, once again, he and his attorney had managed to negotiate yet another soft plea bargain ostensibly in exchange for information.
Last Monday night, some 60 Pleasantville residents came out to the work session of the Pleasantville Village Board to demonstrate, and voice their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs that continued to keep Police Officer Bonura out of action, off the streets, and out of contact with the adolescents of the community. Several residents came up to address Mayor Bernard Gordon and the Village Trustees.
The Mayor opened up by stating, “Westchester County operates under a special statute.” He went on, “We, the Village Board, are also the Board of Police Commissioners.” Attempting to commiserate with the frustration of those who filled the meeting room to capacity, he said, “The investigation obviously has taken a long time. We will not be commenting at this time.” He then invited anyone who wished to speak to come up to the podium.
The first of several persons to come forward was Bill Lucia who, together with his wife Michelle, had circulated a flyer encouraging local citizens to attend the meeting and express their views to the Board.
The Guardian met very briefly with Lucia just prior to his entering the session, and was told that he “wanted to keep the expression of support for Officer Bonura from residents rather than the PBA.”
Lucia began his remarks, “When you lose two detectives and two youth officers, for something like this to go on for nearly five months is outrageous.”
He continued, “What I don’t understand is how this process can go forward. Most police officers feel that this should have been resolved in a week. My understanding is that the penalty can run from 20 days to suspension.”
Pausing briefly, he opined, “This is our community; this is out of the norm. We all know that we don’t want this to go to a public hearing which will only bring out more dirty laundry.”
Following approval from the crowd, Lucia went on, “We’re going to end up in a public hearing, and, after 28 years, this isn’t where we should be.” At that point, Mayor Gordon indicated he couldn’t speak.
Trustee Peter Sherer stated, “Things are not at the same place they were.”
Lucia retorted, “When you lose two youth officers in a month, you have a problem. You lose the trust of the kids.” Lucia was making reference to the fact that, in addition to Bonura’s suspension, fellow detective and youth officer Michael DeMaio, who was demoted, also in connection with the probe of Bonura’s remarks, had resigned from the Pleasantville Department and gone to work with the Ossining Police.
Trustee Mindy Berard spoke about a bonfire event, over the previous weekend, attended by two newly-appointed youth officers that had gone without incident, declaring, “We are not compromising the safety of the kids with those new youth officers.”
In the course of an hour several other residents, perhaps six or seven, came to the podium to address the Village Board. Each expressed their concern that the community was having to “make due” without the services of Detective Sergeant Bonura, and that the process of investigation, by the Police Department, was taking entirely too long.
While it was obvious that the 60 or so residents who turned out were supportive of Officer Bonura and disappointed with the loss of Officer DiMaio, surprisingly not one speaker dealt directly with the question of how and why it was that Pleasantville Police Chief Anthony Chiarlitti saw fit, upon the comments of a 27-year decorated, and highly regarded officer of his department, expressing disappointment with the District Attorney’s Office’s handling of a career, repeat offender, to immediately suspend him from active duty.
That fact is deeply rooted in much that is wrong with law enforcement, and its relationship to the District Attorney’s Office
in Westchester County.
For the most part, the 43 police departments in Westchester are terrified by the DA’s Office, and the sitting District Attorney, in particular.
Beginning with Carl Vergari, who came along in 1968, and held on to the office for 26 years, with an ever-tightening grip, followed
by 12 years of Jeanine Pirro, who believed the truth was whatever she said it was; to the installation of Janet Di-Fiore, who had given Pirro an “A+” rating, but has driven the morale and the moral authority of the Of-fice to all-time lows by her incompetence and untruthfulness, the seeds of wrongful convictions were sown and countless innocent individuals were railroaded into prison.
There is something very seriously wrong, and totally unhealthy, for the well-being of Westchester’s families, when an exemplary police offi-cer, with nearly three decades on the job, must be afraid to speak honestly about the handling of a career criminal, a public menace to the community that officer serves, by the District Attorney’s Office, for fear of reprisal from his Chief of Police. The citizens and taxpayers of Pleasantville ought to be asking Chief Chiarlitti just what he was so fearful of in the exposure of the truth by Officer Bonura.
And, while they are at it, they might ask him if he thought Gonzalez was appropriately dealt with in light of his record.
There was no insubordination, no failure on Bonura’s part. His comments posed no threat to, or breach of, public safety. On the contrary, his remarks were made with sincere regard for the men, women, and children for whom the repeat offender’s presence posed a real threat.
As far back as early June, within three weeks of his suspension, the Westchester Detectives Association, the Police Columbia Association of
Westchester, and other organizations, were writing to Chief Chiarlitti in support of Bonura.
To his credit, the Chief returned a call from The Guardian. When asked why a valuable officer such as Detective Bonura was suspended,
the Chief replied, “There were two parts to his statement to the Journal News: The first involved the actions of the District Attorney’s Office, and the second involved Gonzalez’ use as an informant.”
When we asked, “Was his statement an embarrassment to your Of-fice?”, Chiarlitti responded, “Right now, it’s a personnel matter, and I’m not going to discuss it any further.”
Officer Stephen Bonura must be restored to full service immediately.