Thursday, January 22, 2009
Officer Bonura Confronted With A
Disgraceful Display Of Official Cowardice
Last Thursday evening, the Disciplinary Hearings against Pleasantville Detective Sergeant Stephen J. Bonura resumed before the Pleasantville
Village Board/Police Commissioners. Mayor Gordon opened the hearing, announcing, “This is the continued hearing on disciplinary charges of Detective Sergeant Stephen Bonura.” The Mayor then reiterated what he had said at the first session, many weeks earlier, “Although it is a hearing open to the public, it’s not a public hearing.”
Mr. Lovett, addressing the Board, stated, “At the end of the last meeting, you indicated that my client would continue without pay.” He
went further, advising the Village Board, “We’re in Federal Court tomorrow and, if I get what I want, I would suggest that you put my client
back on salary.”
Mr. Terry O’Neill, representing Complainant Police Chief Chiarlitti, then indicated that Bonura had been served with a subpoena intended to
compel his testimony.
Mr. Lovett told O’Neill, “Move to find him in contempt and I will add you to the lawsuit. He is not testifying.”
Lovett then repeated, “He is not testifying. I suggest it’s shenanigans because of the federal suit.” He went further, declaring, “You’re going
fast-forward. You think you’re going to put on a ‘dog and pony’ show here tonight to try and embarrass my client.”
Mr. O’Neill countered, “This is not federal court, and we have a witness who can shortcut the process.”
Mr. Lovett came back with, “In Federal Court, you will not be in control.” He then dared the Board, “Beat up my client a little more. Order him to testify. Find him in contempt.”
The Board then took a 25-minute break into executive session presumably to consider their position and to seek advice from their two
Board attorneys. Upon their return, Mayor Gordon spoke out, declaring, “Mr. Lovett, we have listened to your argument. Nothing we are doing here has anything to do with your federal case.”
Lovett shot back with, “The Chief of Police, in his infinite wisdom, has concocted the story that he has presented.” Mayor Gordon replied, “I’d like to call to everyone’s attention the Town has the power under Rules and Regulations of Article 22, but we can’t force him to testify.”
Attorney O’Neill, seeking direction from the Board, said, “We’re asking if the Board is directing Detective Sergeant Bonura to testify. We thought this would be an opportunity for the truth to set him free.” That comment drew laughter from the audience. O’Neill went on, “Detective Sergeant Bonura had a conversation with Shawn Cohen [newspaper reporter].
We have that tape here, a tape of Detective Sergeant Bonura’s interview.” Mr. Lovett, speaking of Attorney O’Neill, then told the Board, “He needs a foundation. If he’s got witnesses, let him call them.” Attorney O’Neill then snapped, “The witness who can testify is seated right here,” motioning to Detective Sergeant Bonura. He then indicated he was going to play several tape-recorded conversations.
Mr. Lovett then told O’Neill, “Then call him. He’s not your witness.” Lovett went on, “Why don’t you also play the recorded tape of the DA’s call into the Chief so the public can hear it. I’m sure that it was on a recorded line.” O’Neill then proceeded, as an offer of proof, to play a series of four tapes, the first of which was Detective Sergeant Bonura’s conversation with reporter Shawn Cohen. The tape played for approximately 20 minutes.
In the key conversation with Cohen, Detective Sergeant Bonura was heard saying of the District Attorney’s Office, “If they kept their
word, he’d be in jail right now.” For the next three hours O’Neill played a series of four tapes, mostly involving Lt. Wilson’s interrogation
of Bonura in an attempt to find justi-fication for the bogus charges Chief Chiarlitti had brought against him.
In the course of his discussion with reporter Cohen, Bonura indicated that Kahlil Gonzalez had a career in crime of 11 years since he was
16 years old, with some 30 arrests for a variety of crimes in places such as Briarcliff, New Castle, and Mount Pleasant, to name a few, besides the Village of Pleasantville.
At one point Bonura said to reporter Cohen, “Enough is enough. How much good can he possibly do to justify turning him loose? When do we draw the line on Kahlil Gonzalez?” There were some 95 people in the room, including Village residents and police officers, at the start of the tapes, more than 60 of whom stayed to hear it all despite the poor quality of the audio and the repititiousness of Lt. Wilson’s questions.
Throughout the four breaks taken by the Board between tapes, the comments of Village residents and police officers alike, basically questioned the need to be wasting taxpayers’ money on such a wrongful process by the Village Board. The playing of the tapes concluded at 9:15 pm.
At that point, Mr. Lovett said, “I think Lt. Wilson needs to be instructed in how to conduct an investigative interview.” He also questioned the legality of playing the tapes.
Lovett told Mayor Gordon that Attorney O’Neill, “without being sworn, presented the tapes subject to connection.”
O’Neill said, “We also have some videotapes,” about which Mayor Gordon asked, “How long are they?”
Attorney Lovett quipped, “With or without cartoons?”
Lovett then went on to declare to the Board, “I’d ask you to think this over.” Referring to the Board as ‘Elite Snobs’, Lovett then said, “The jury’s not going to like you very much. You prefer to hurt a 27-year veteran police officer. Try and show a little humanity.”
Next Day, Bonura In Federal Court
Friday morning, January 16th, some 12 hours after enduring a four-and-a-half-hour-long disciplinary hearing before the Pleasantville Village
Board/Police Commission, Detective Sergeant Stephen Bonura found himself in the United States District Court, White Plains, before Judge Cathy Seibel, accompanied by his wife Lisa and civil rights attorney Jonathan Lovett in an action entitled Stephen Bonura v Anthony Chiarlitti.
Prior to commencing the proceedings, Judge Seibel announced, “I am acquainted with one of the defendants, Ms. DiFiore.” To which
Attorney Lovett quickly responded, “That’s fine.”
The Judge then proceeded to ask, “Mr. Lovett, what is the status of your client?”
Lovett responded, “We attended another hearing last night. There are multiple hearings scheduled.” Lovett then went on to present an overview of the Kahlil Gonzalez affair. Speaking of his client, Detective Sergeant Bonura, Lovett told the Judge, “He expressed frustration with the fact that Gonzalez was arrested so many times and was still out.”
Seibel, referring to the report in The Journal News by Shawn Cohen, developed from his interview with Detective Sergeant Bonura, asked,
“Couldn’t someone reading the paper believe that he [Gonzalez] was a confidential informant?”
Lovett responded, by explaining the circumstances surrounding Police Chief Chiarlitti’s initial approval of Bonura’s remarks to the reporter,
as well as the First Amendment implications of the Chief ’s later response.
The Judge responded, “You’re not going to have a problem proving causation in this case, Mr. Lovett.” She then asked, “Couldn’t the Chief
have agreed with your client, but not with his making the statement?”
Lovett immediately replied, “No, Your Honor, he expressed approval of what he said.” Lovett then went on to inform the Judge of the
public’s response to the matter, and then repeated his assertion, “Stephen Bonura’s comment was Constitutionally-protected speech, and,
what Shawn Cohen wrote was also Constitutionally protected.
Judge Seibel then asked, “In terms of a police officer, don’t I have to balance First Amendment rights against whatever rights the employer has to control what his employee says?”
Lovett came back with, “The Chief admitted he agreed, and there was no disruption of the department. He merely expressed his frustration
with putting a career criminal back on the street.
At that point, the Judge asked, “What are you seeking?”
To which Lovett responded, “I am seeking a Temporary Injunction, a prohibitory injunction. He’s charged with ‘Expression Of His Opinion.’ To leave him twisting in the wind with a wife and five children, it’s been a sham from Day One.”
Attorney DeVita, an associate of Attorney Brian Sokoloff, also present and representing the Village of Pleasantville, two of six Defense
attorneys, told the Judge, “It’s the Village’s position that this case is frivolous.” He went on, “He tries to say to the Federal Court, ‘I have
a Constitutional right to violate the Constitutional rights of someone who is being investigated.’”
Following his associate’s comments, Attorney Sokoloff then cited Garcetti, a well-known case which deals with First Amendment rights in the law enforcement workplace.
Seibel responded that there was a distinction to be drawn in that he wasn’t giving his personal opinion, but was acting in his official capacity.
Sokoloff, however, took issue, arguing that Bonura was also acting in his official capacity, proceeding to read several passages from the transcript of Bonura’s telephone conversation with reporter Cohen.
The Judge shortened the reading, stating, “I gather that your position is that Detective Bonura was out of line.” She then remarked, “On
a Motion To Dismiss, I can still consider the transcript.”
Sokoloff persisted, “Mr. Lovett has jumped the gun. He cannot show a likelihood of success or irreparable harm. Just because he pulls out a
wild First Amendment claim, the Board Members have qualified immunity. It is a defense to what is happening here.”
With respect to references to District Attorney DiFiore’s role in Detective Sergeant Bonura’s situation, the Judge said, “It wouldn’t
surprise me if she was apoplectic or certainly disturbed.”
Attorney Lovett then attempted to address Defense allegations, stating, “They have totally ignored the fact that retaliatory actions were
taken against my client. They ignored everything but the conversation with reporter Cohen. He expressed his opinion on a matter of
public importance. There were four other speakers who the Defendants have completely ignored; unfavorable press, the Detectives’ Association, public sentiment at the original meeting, and the blogs.”
Lovett went on, “There will be testimony by an Assistant District Attorney that Lieutenant Love not only lied to him, but that he encouraged Defendant Gonzalez to sue the Village.”
At that point, Judge Seibel said, “Can I see counsel in sidebar, off the record, for a few minutes?”
Fourteen minutes later the Judge said, “We’re back on the record. At my suggestion, counsel is going to discuss whether there can be a resolution of issues. I am also going to ask if the disciplinary proceedings can be postponed in the meantime. I am not ordering it; it’s a practical suggestion.”
At that point, the proceedings were adjourned until Wednesday, February 4th at 9:15 am.
Questioned by this reporter as to his sentiments upon emerging from Federal Court, Attorney Lovett said, “The Judge’s suggestion is excellent, and hopefully, everybody will be flexible.”