A hearing on a father-son duo accused of stealing smoke detectors from the New Hyde Park Fire Department continued for nearly three-and-a-half hours at the fire department headquarters Tuesday night after an initial night failed to supply enough seating capacity for the public to view to proceedings.
Michael Dolan Sr. and his son, Michael Jr., were brought up on both criminal and departmental charges for allegedly stealing smoke detectors from the department in 2012. The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office eventually dropped the criminal charges. However, any member of the fire department has a right to have a hearing before an arbitrator.
Extensive testimony from witnesses from both sides had the hearing continuing till 10:30 p.m., with several short breaks. Numerous accounts of the events were bantered back and forth throughout the night, rife with dates and changing accounts.
According to prosecuting attorney Tom Stock, the senior Dolan obtained 150 smoke detectors from the Nassau County Fire Museum and brought 100 to the fire department “on the merits of the program,” in reference to a smoke detector program the board of commissioners was running. Ultimately the detectors were property of the department given by the museum.
The program consisted of members of the department installing detectors for the elderly who may not have one in their home. The nature of the program was contested by the defense stating it was a program strictly for batteries for smoke detectors.
The prosecution stated the senior Dolan then removed 82 detectors from a secured location, referencing a videotape marked for evidence. Dolan reportedly conceded he took the detectors in a board meeting, as previously mentioned. On behest of the commissioners he was asked to return them, but only returned 65 detectors. He reportedly again took the 65 smoke detectors and returned 36 to the fire museum. Tuesday night the prosecution’s witnesses, Commissioner Richard Stein and ex-commissioner John Brown, both seemed to back up the allegations as did testimony from John Murray from the previous night.
Opening statements from the prosecution attempted to prove that the Dolans had acted criminally in allegedly removing smoke detectors from the fire department on multiple occasions.
In his arguments, defense attorney Michael T. Cornacchia conceded the Dolans took the detectors but did so without criminal intent and not for personal gain.
“In effect Commissioner Dolan is a thorn in the side of these commissioners,” Cornacchia said. “They hate his guts and I think when I question Mr. Stein if he says he likes him, he’ll be lying. They want to get rid of Commissioner Dolan and they were willing to throw this young man into it.”
He put forth that this whole incident revolves around personal disagreements and vendettas, saying that the junior Dolan was “only guilty of being a dutiful son.”
Cornacchia added that ”from the time they signed the complaint till the time they tell the police ‘have these men arrested,’ they knew the detectors were given back to the fire museum…everyone knew where they were. This is about a fight in this firehouse, this wonderful big firehouse, paid a lot of money for by the tax payers and it’s a hit, it’s a hit on the commissioner.”
The defense also argued the departmental charges were levied as revenge against the senior Dolan with the younger one being collateral.
“Even by the opening statement of the council he has no knowledge of the inner workings of the board of commissioners,” Cornacchia said, “and if anything these charges are totally inapplicable to Michael Dolan junior, they just aren’t. Matter of fact the testimony will be very little about this young man. It’s going to be he helped his father. The evidence will show he acted in good faith. Acting in good faith with good intention is key here. This is not a who done it, it is a why done it.”
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The departmental charges were filed seemingly on behalf of the commissioners by Chief Von Wern, with the defense alluding that this was a personal vendetta since that is not normal procedure. The natures of the charges relate to the taking of the equipment for personal gain and actions unbecoming of a member of the department.
On the stand the elder Dolan testified he felt at the firehouse and with the program “there was no accountability” in regard to the detectors with Cornacchia noting that there was no inventory of the detectors kept. Richard Stein, chair of the board of fire commissioners, in cross examination admitted that one was in “formulation.”
When asked if he was a thief, the senior Dolan said in his own testimony “I don’t think so.”
The defense left unaddressed that the detectors were owned by the fire department and had belonged at the firehouse. The elder Dolan “deemed the smoke detectors were his and the Fire Museum gave the smoke detectors to him,” Stock said, putting forth that both men would have good understanding of the workings of an organization with rank and that by removing the detectors a second time, they were clearly not following the directive of the board. The defense stated the junior Dolan had no knowledge of these proceedings.
The defense said he used the detectors at local organizations by giving presentations and handing them out. The defense produced a letter from one organization thanking the department for 24 of the detectors.
The prosecution argued this was not the intent of the program through testimony of Stein, who initiated the program, stating that it was made clear that was not the intended use of the smoke detectors. Stein noted he was qualified to teach the proper installation of the detectors and keeping a log of the recipients of the detectors was another aspect of the program Dolan failed to do while acting on his own accord. He stated the importance of logging who received the detectors in order to follow up in coming years that the detectors are still in working order and that Dolan would have needed approval from the other Board members to take the actions he did.
Both accused were presented as men of good character by the defense, with military service noted. The prosecution, upon cross-examination, put forth the younger Dolan’s history within the department, including a disagreement with a chief and a reported physical altercation with another firefighter, both resulting in suspensions. Both Dolans had a history of DWI’s according to the prosecution.
A large crowd was present, mostly in support of the Dolans. Comments pertaining to a “kangaroo court” or “a disgrace” could be heard from the crowd. On one occasion the arbitrator had to stop asking the public to refrain from making comments.
The hearing ended with no resolution to the fate of the Dolans, with arbitrator Walter P. Wagner not making a decision on the case.
A judgment will be determined in the coming week. The defense is seeking a lifting of the suspension for time already served.