Departmental charges are a distinct possibility against a Garden City Park Fire Department Assistant Chief regarding alleged misconduct after being involved with a search by Nassau County Police relating to an incident at the Cellini Lodge Festival this past August.
Michael Magas, a third assistant chief of the fire department at the time, allegedly came to the home of resident Dawn Ward on August 14 after her 19-year old son came into an altercation with a security guard at the fairgrounds in Michael J. Tully Park earlier that night.
“The security guard was saying ‘can you move it along’... and they said ‘we’re moving’ and he said ‘I said move faster’ and my son said ‘we’re moving’, something to that effect,” Ward said recounting her son’s description of the events, stating that the guard placed his hands around her son’s throat. “Everybody just described it as one of his hands – I don’t think both – he took his hands and just open-handedly pushed him by his neck type of thing.”
Ward stated that her son “took him and from my understanding it’s he shoved (the guard)... and the guy fell.”
In a September 5 letter to the Garden City Park Fire Commissioner Board, Ward wrote that police were eventually called to search for her son, who had left the festival and gone home.
“Everyone’s out looking for this particular kid in a red shirt,” Ward said in a phone conversation. “That’s when this particular chief happened to see him walking home and he’s like ‘kid, stop... you have to come with me and my kid’s like get out of here and then he started running home and that’s when they chased him.”
In her letter, Ward said that almost immediately after arriving home, two persons who “identified themselves as being “with the fire department’,“ arrived and attempted to gain entry into her home, one of which was Magas, who was utilizing a fire chief’s vehicle at the time. Nassau County Police Officers arrived shortly thereafter.
“When I opened my front door (Magas) and this (other fire department individual) were on my front porch and then the police offices were all on my grass,” Ward said, adding that Magas listened as she spoke to officers about the incident. “And then after however long, five, six seven minutes, whatever it was, he left. He came back a few minutes later and he had the security guard that got into the altercation with my son in his car.”
Ward said that it was agreed that both her son and the security guard agreed not to press charges against each other.
In response to Ward’s September 5 letter, Garden City Park Fire Commissioner Board Chairman Chris Engel send a letter dated September 26 that stating that an investigation would be conducted regarding the matter and that “we are working on new rules that will make it clear that this type of conduct is unacceptable. However, there is an issue created by the fact that there was no rule that directly addressed this type of conduct at the time that the conduct occurred.”
Magas is also a member of the NYPD, a fact addressed in Engel’s letter in which he states that “there is also a jurisdictional issue that arises when a member is also a police officer, and elects to act as a police officer when he or she believes that a breach of the peace has occurred. Under such circumstance the issue is with his police employer and not with the fire department/ fire district.”
Robert Mirabile, one of the Garden City Park Fire Department assistant chiefs, said that Magas “was asked for assistance by an officer who knew him only as a fire chief.”
It is not known whether Magas violated any NYPD policies for attempting to act as a police officer out of uniform or while using fire district equipment during a police action. Magas had declined all comments with the case citing advice from his attorney.
A closed-door session with commissioners investigating the incident was held on September 26, with Magas first denying being on Ward’s property at the time but then altering the story and apologizing for any wrongdoing according to Ward.
Mirabile stated that the department’s official stance on the incident was that “as far as an allegation being made, the department chiefs found no wrongdoing and the board of commissioners agreed and found that there was no wrongdoing.”
In his own opinion, Mirabile said that personally, “I do not feel this would not be an issue if it weren’t for a contested election.”
However, Mirabile’s assertions were disputed by sitting board commissioner Augie Carnevale.
“I don’t know where Rob is getting his information,” Carnevale said. “There’s not paperwork exonerating Michael. Right now it’s an ongoing investigation.”
Garden City Park Fire Chief Roger Green declined to make a comment about the case stating that “it is something that is being investigated,” emphasizing that “no one is authorized to make any comment” and “any comment made by anyone other than myself as chief of the department is not representative of the chief’s staff of the department.”
Carnevale stated that departmental charges are still pending against Magas, which presumably will come at the board’s December 19 meeting and could possibly include that of conduct unbecoming a member of the department.
“The board of commissioners has guaranteed that there will be hearing but has not issued or notified anyone of that date yet,” Green said.
Carnevale said that an arbitrator is scheduled to come in some time in January 2014 to hear both sides. The arbitrator then has 30 days from the conclusion of the arbitration hearing to render a decision and recommend to the board of commissioners if Magas should face suspension for a period of time, a demotion in rank or possible dismissal from the department. The board though has the right to overrule the arbitrator if it sees fit. Carnevale said that the arbitration hearing would be open to the public.