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Fire chief convicted on one of two charges in firefighter vs. wedding party brawl

03/30/2018 6:00 AM |

A Riverhead jury delivered a split decision Tuesday in the case of chief from the Hagerman Fire Department in East Patchogue who became involved in a brawl between fire department members and members of a wedding party at East Wind in Wading River just after midnight on March 4.

Thomas Dunham, 55, of East Patchogue, first assistant chief of the fire department, was found guilty of second-degree obstructing government administration and not guilty of resisting arrest following a three-day trial before Riverhead Town Justice Lori Hulse.

His attorney, Christopher Ross, said afterward that he plans to file an application “to set aside that verdict based on the weight of the evidence.”

Judge Hulse said a decision on that application will be made April 18.

The trial was held in the Town Hall meeting room out of concern that the town Justice Court wouldn’t be big enough.

Mr. Dunham was one of four people arrested following the brawl, which police said involved more than 40 guests at the East Wind.

Also arrested were Mr. Dunham’s sons, Brendan, 21, and Andrew, 29, along with Corey Citarella, 29, who is a first lieutenant in the department.

All were charged with third-degree assault; Andrew Dunham also was charged with second-degree harassment and resisting arrest.

Those charges, as well as the charges against Thomas Dunham, are all class A misdemeanors, carrying maximum penalties of up to one year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

The other three defendants will all be tried separately at future dates.

The Hagerman Fire District held a March 3 installation dinner at East Wind. At the same time, a wedding was taking place in a different part of East Wind.

At one point, members of both parties were intermingled in a common area, where the fight started, according to police. While the other three defendants were accused of assaulting the groom from the wedding party, Thomas Dunham is accused of trying to prevent a police officer from arresting someone. As a result, the circumstances leading to the fight were not covered in this case.

Instead, the case centered on what happened after Andrew Dunham and Corey Citarella were already under arrest and in handcuffs in a vestibule, and how Thomas Dunham and Riverhead police officers reacted.

Sgt. Brian Gleason and Officer Giuseppe Rosini of the Riverhead Police Department testified in the case, while viewing what Mr. Ross called a “clouded” surveillance video of the scene taken from East Wind.

The video showed Thomas Dunham, dressed in baggy sweatpants, a white T-shirt and socks with no shoes, entering the room and moving toward Sgt. Gleason.

Police said they did a “show-up,” where they asked the groom, who they said had a welt under his eye and blood coming from his mouth, to identify the people who assaulted him. The groom picked out Mr. Citarella and Andrew Dunham, who were then placed under arrest.

A third person was also picked from the lineup and detained in handcuffs. John Ciambra, a member of the Hagerman department, testified that he was later released when police watched the video and determined that he did not assault the groom.

Thomas Dunham said he was in his room, as he’d planned to stay overnight, when he and his wife decided to go downstairs for a midnight snack, which is why he was wearing sweatpants and no shoes, he said. It was around this time the fight began, he said.

Mr. Dunham said he asked Sgt. Gleason what happened several times and was told to “shut up” or “back off.”

Other witnesses for Mr. Dunham said they tried to speak to Sgt. Gleason and were told he was not taking any statements.

Sgt. Gleason said he didn’t recall telling anyone to be quiet, but if they were making a lot of noise, he probably did, he said, in order to maintain control of the situation.

Thomas Dunham testified that, out of frustration, he then said to the Sgt. Gleason, “If you’re only going to arrest my guys, then you might as well arrest me, too,” and held up his hands so they could be cuffed.

From there, he said, friends and family pulled him away, which can be seen on the video.

“Resisting arrest?” Mr. Ross later said to the jury. “He’s asking to be arrested.”

Sgt. Gleason testified that he was trying to keep the room calm when Mr. Dunham came in, yelling at him, saying something to the effect of “if you’re going to arrest my son, arrest me too.”

“He pushed me in my mid-section with his hands, and I told him to back off,” Sgt. Gleason said. He said Thomas Dunham’s actions were causing other people to become agitated.

Mr. Dunham then “came at me again,” Sgt. Gleason said in court, testifying that he pushed Mr. Dunham off him both times before others in the room dragged Mr. Dunham away.

“He was pushing with his hands and body weight” and then some people pulled him away, Sgt. Gleason said.

The sergeant said that’s when he told Officer Rosini to arrest Mr. Dunham.

“I said, ‘He’s got to go,’” Sgt. Gleason recalled, saying Mr. Dunham’s actions were getting the crowd agitated again.

Mr. Dunham said every time he asked police for information on what happened, he was told to “shut up” and became frustrated because only fire department members were getting arrested.

The next thing that happened, according to the police report at the time, is that as Officer Rosini was bringing Mr. Dunham into a vestibule in handcuffs, Andrew Dunham put his foot out and tripped both men.

Officer Rosini said he suffered a contusion to his right hand and was on light duty until the day before the trial.

Sgt. Gleason said he was watching the crowd but briefly turned around and saw people fall, although he couldn’t say they were tripped.

Thomas Dunham testified that he was temporarily unconscious and woke up face down on the pavement outside the building.

Officer Rosini testified that Mr. Dunham was “charging” and pushing Sgt. Gleason, and then charged Sgt. Gleason and police Officer John Morris as well.

“He got into Sgt. Gleason’s face,” Officer Rosini said.

Sgt. Gleason said police were keeping detainees in the vestibule because it was a smaller area that would separate them from the crowd in the lobby.

In his closing statement, Mr. Ross said 50 people were involved in the disturbance, yet it took police five minutes to pick out three people to arrest, one of whom was later was released.

Mr. Ross said Andrew Dunham was on the floor because Sgt. Gleason pushed him there. He also said Mr. Dunham “walked” up to Sgt. Gleason, whereas Officer Rosini said he “charged.”

Both Officer Rosini and Sgt. Gleason acknowledged that they did not see the fight first hand.

Assistant district attorney Blythe Miller said the claims of Mr. Dunham and his witnesses, including son Timothy Dunham, that they were not intoxicated is not believable.

“Use your common sense,” she told the jury.

She said Mr. Dunham was pushing and pulling while officers tried to arrest him, which qualifies as resisting arrest and obstructing government administration.

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