Thursday, December 25, 2008
The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Testimony Exposes DiFiore-Driven Sham
Police From All Over Westchester Express ‘No Confidence’ In The DA
Disciplinary Hearing Of Detective Sergeant
Stephen J. Bonura Before Pleasantville
Village Board Of Police Commissioners
Last Wednesday morning, December 17th, at around 10am, the long-awaited hearing into charges against 27-year veteran of the Pleasantville Police Department, Detective Sergeant Stephen J. Bonura, got underway in the courtroom of Village Hall. Mayor Bernard Gordon opened the proceedings, declaring before more than 100 family, friends including some 60 or so fellow police colleagues of Detective Bonura, “This is a disciplinary hearing dealing with charges against Detective Sergeant Stephen Bonura by charging party Chief Anthony Chiarlitti.”
In an effort to avoid problems, Gordon advised the audience, “This hearing is open to the public, but it’s not a public hearing. No member of
the public will be allowed to speak.” He went on to explain, “It is the job of the Board of Village Trustees to determine if any of the charges have
Attorney Terry O’Neil, retained as counsel to Police Chief Chiarlitti, then alluded to what he referred to as “some typographical errors that had been corrected.” Following O’Neil’s opening remarks, Jonathan Lovett, Attorney for Detective Bonura, said to the Board, “We’re not talking about typographical errors here; we’re talking about date changes, substantive changes.” Showing his disgust with the irregularity, Lovett quipped, “Why not change to October 2009?”
Lovett told the Mayor, “I was surprised when you said that you were proceeding under the Westchester Police Act. Apparently you haven’t read the act. It applies to towns, not villages.” Lovett, obviously upset with the Board, said, “Prior to my arrival here, my client was coerced to sign certain stipulations. By being here, I am not implying or suggesting that this proceeding is legal.”Attorney O’Neil, in response to Lovett’s strong stance regarding the Board’s illegal position, and his having advised them, “I haven’t yet moved for an injunction in federal court,” cited a case in which a District Court had ruled against Lovett’s client.
Lovett immediately came back with, “The Second Circuit reversed the District Court that found against my client, and the school board paid my client $600,000. So put that in your due process pipe and smoke it.”
Not 20 minutes into the hearing, and Jonathan Lovett had so strongly admonished and cautioned the Board, that they called for a recess to go into executive session in order to consider their position and their response. The Board emerged from executive session having apparently and unlawfully voted, out of public view, on a number of issues; and, announced, through its chairman, Mayor Gordon, that they had accepted the amended changes, rejected Mr. Lovett’s request for discovery, and “deemed itself to be in compliance with the law.”
Lovett waited for the Mayor to announce the Board’s decisions, and then said, “The meeting you just had was in executive session, and a vote of the Board cannot occur out of public view.” Mayor Gordon asked if Bonura would be waiving a reading of the charges against him. Lovett responded strongly, “We are not going to waive anything. We want the Chief to read every word.”
Chief Chiarlitti began to read the charges at 10:55am, and was not finished until 12:35pm. On their face, the charges read by Chiarlitti were a reptitious list of by-the-book regulations that one uses when they are nitpicking to find fault with standard operating procedures, a point repeated more than a few times by Bonura’s attorney, Jonathan Lovett.
Mayor Gordon, upon the completion of the chief ’s reading of the charges, said to Bonura, “How do you plead?”
Attorney Lovett responded with, “We deny the charges and we are not waiving anything.” PBA President Erik Grutzner turned to this reporter’s inquiry regarding the proceedings, and said, “This is as expected.” A retired New York City police officer, seated near him, chimed in, “This hearing is a damned shame, and a disgrace; a waste of our tax money.”
An off-duty Pleasantville police officer added, “Why do we continue to be the victim of all this? How come the DA continues to do business with a career criminal with 30 arrests, letting him go? Why don’t they put him away?”
Following a break for lunch, Attorney O’Neil attempted to put the charges brought by Chief Chiarlitti into focus, declaring, “It certainly isn’t about DA DiFiore. It isn’t about her.”
He then proceeded to summarize all of the charges that had been leveled against Detective Bonura:
• Failure to make a timely arrest;
• Failure to properly handcuff;
• Failure to use a caged police car to transport;
• Conducting an “outrageous strip-search” of Gonzalez;
• Improper evidence-handling;
• Exposure of Gonzalez’ rap sheet;
• Exposure of Gonzalez as an informant.
Having detailed the categories, O’Neil told the Board he had, “Never heard of a police officer exposing a confidential informant, and that’s what triggered the investigation. We are focusing on how Mr. Gonzalez was treated.” He went on, “We are confident you will find Detective Bonura guilty on every charge.”
Jonathan Lovett responded, “Mr. O’Neil thinks he can trivialize the United States Constitution. It’s not going to work this way. The police
chief has gotten you to do what DA DiFiore has done to him.”
Lovett went further, telling the Board, “Lieutenant Love repeatedly lied to the Assistant DA in this case.” Going on, he declared, “Lieutenant Love reportedly wore pants with a hole in them, and no underwear, saying look at my chicken.”
Turning to another subject, Attorney Lovett announced, “Lieutenant Clouseau knows the truth, and so does the chief; my client wasn’t present for the rap sheet.” Pausing for a moment, Lovett then told the Board, “When we get through with this case, and the federal case, police officers will
know that they have the right to speak the truth.” He then remarked, “The revolving door is oiled daily by Janet of the Apes.”
Lovett then warned the Board, “If you lose in Federal Court, my client cleans your clock.” It should be noted Detective Bonura has filed a $32 million lawsuit in Federal Court. Lovett went on, “You will find that the only reason that my client is here is because he criticized the DA. The lawsuit that Lieutenant Love invited, presumably with the Chief ’s blessings, isn’t going anywhere.”
Lovett, changing gears, then remarked, “I said it’s a Kangaroo Court.” He then demanded, “What were you doing on September 4th when you coerced my client to sign a stipulation?” And, again he demanded, “How would you like to have five kids and a wife to support without an income?”
Lovett then informed the Board, “I purposely did not seek a preliminary injunction to allow you to stick yourselves in the position you’re in now. We’ve got cops out there putting their lives on the line and a DA cutting criminals get out of jail free cards. For reasons that escape me, a career criminal is being coddled, and a career police of-ficer is being prosecuted.”
He then asked the Board, “Have you ever heard of Freedom Of The Press, the First Amendment? Why are you siding with the career criminal? What is a police lieutenant doing, inviting a career criminal to sue you?”
Attorney O’Neil’s first witness was Pleasantville Police Sergeant Mark Cistero. On cross-examination by Attorney Lovett, Sgt. Cistero’s testimony virtually dismantled Chief Chiarlitti’s case. Mr. Lovett succeeded in establishing:
• Handcuffing in front is a routine practice in the Pleasantville Police Department;
• Use of uncaged police cars to transport persons in custody is common;
• Chief Chiarlitti, in Cistero’s presence, acknowledged and approved what Detective Bonura had told the newspaper reporter;
• It was Sgt. Cistero who had obtained Gonzalez’ rap sheet by going directly to the State BCI Unit, as is usually the case, without the necessity of a subpoena from Judge Murphy;
• Sgt. Cistero witnessed Lieutenant Love seated inside the holding cage at Pleasantville Police Headquarters with the door open, talking with Gonzalez and his girlfriend.
Dan Schorr, a former ADA under Jeanine Pirro, and an announced candidate for District Attorney, who was present at Wednesday’s hearing, shared the following with this reporter:
“I worked closely with Detective Sgt. Bonura on the attempted murder prosecution of Sheila Davalloo and came to know him as an excellent, skilled, hard-working law enforcement officer. In large part because of his outstanding work, the defendant was successfully convicted and sentenced to the maximum of 25 years in prison.
“Detective Sgt. Bonura is just one of many in the Westchester law enforcement community who have recently expressed frustration with the current leadership in the DA’s Office. I have spoken with many other law enforcement officers who cite the DA’s Office’s failure to adequately prosecute dangerous criminal defendants and its tendency to give probationary pleas to offenders who belong in prison. While others may not have spoken out as vocally as Detective Sgt. Stephen Bonura, the sentiments he expressed are shared by many other cops throughout the County who
work hard to arrest dangerous people, only to see them released by the DA’s Office.
“It is very important that the Westchester community supports this excellent law enforcement officer who has dedicated his life to fighting to protect our public safety. After witnessing the hearing I am convinced that Detective Sgt. Bonura is being unfairly targeted by people who are trying to ruin the career and reputation of a great man.
“Furthermore, part of the job of the District Attorney is to stand up for good members of law enforcement. Considering Detective Sgt. Bonura’s excellent history of service to this County, Janet DiFiore should have either spoken out on his behalf or sent someone from her Office to the hearing in order to show her support for him.”
Tony Castro, who ran against the present District Attorney in 2005, and who many people believe will be a candidate next year for that Office, told The Guardian:
“I trust that the Village of Pleasantville Board of Trustees will faithfully and thoroughly consider the evidence, as well as the lack thereof. In doing
so, I hope that they keep in mind Detective Sergeant Bonura’s decades of dedicated public service while never losing sight of the possible ulterior motives behind the charges against him.”
In three years in office, DA Janet DiFiore has managed to establish one very clear fact; she just can’t get it right when it comes to police officers. She has the terrible habit of protecting the bad cops, guys like Wayne Simoes, who nearly killed Irma Marquez with a totally unjustified body-slam while, at the same time, she attempts to punish good cops. The latest victim of her misguided vindictiveness is Pleasantville Detective Sergeant Stephen J. Bonura, a 27-year veteran of the force who dared to exercise his First Amendment right to honestly and constructively criticize her Office’s repeated wrongful handling of a career criminal.
However, it is just possible that her malicious, behind-the-scenes maneuverings may have finally caught her in the proverbial wringer. She is now lying in every media outlet she can intimidate into carrying her denial. Unfortunately for her, it has become crystal clear that Pleasantville Police Chief Chiarlitti, and through him, the Village Board, have been frightened into bringing bogus charges against one of the most highly regarded, dedicated public servants to ever wear a Pleasantville Police uniform.
The contortions that Chief Chiarlitti and the Village Board were willing to subject Detective Bonura, his loved ones, and the entire community, to, the trumped-up charges, the out-and-out fabrications and lies they have resorted to in their effort to satisfy DA DiFiore’s lust for retaliation, are reprehensible, and call for substantial compensatory and punitive damages. Right-thinking citizens have been expressing their outrage and indignation for months, as will voters across the County come next November.