NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The response of the City of Rye and the Rye Police Department to our reporting the story of the arrest of Mauro Zonzini in 2008 has raised a number of questions.
This past February, Rye Police Chief William L. Connors denied a Freedom of Information Law request by Talk of the Sound on the grounds that the case was sealed.
Earlier this month, the Westchester County Clerk's office provided over 70 pages of records from a legal proceeding through which Zonzini's pistol permit license was revoked and he was ordered to surrender all firearms listed on that license. Among those records was the Incident Report filed by the Rye Police Department and the initial charging document from the Rye City Court with the Class C Felony listed as the only charge.
On June 11, 2013, the Westchester County Clerk's office provided copies of files related to the County Court pistol permit revocation hearing which included numerous related records including Rye police reports, copies of identification taken from Zonzini at the time of this arrest including a low-quality image of the Foundation Shield.
To obtain these records, I merely appeared at the Clerk's office in White Plains, stated the year of the hearing and was handed a cardboard box filled with records and allowed to sort through them on my own at a table nearby. I did not finish. There was some discussion and then a woman at the office came over to me and, to save me time she said, handed me a print out of the entire file that she said she had pulled from their computers. She noted that some of the records were sealed -- apparently the topic of the discussion I observed -- but what she was handing me she was allowed to give me which included the Rye Police and Rye Court records.
One question is, why were records from Rye available without a Freedom of Information Law request at the Westchester County Clerk's office and not available under FOIL from the Rye Police Department or through the City of Rye's Corporation Counsel?
After Rye Police Chief Connors denied our FOIL request in February, we contacted Rye Corporation Counsel Kristin Wilson. We had an informal discussion. I told her that before I filed a formal appeal I wanted to understand why all records were denied. Even in a matter where the case is sealed, there is typically available at least a record of the fact of the arrest with a notation that the records were sealed. An exception is a case involving a minor. Without some record, it as if the arrest never took place and that opens far greater Constitutional questions.
Wilson was cordial, said she would see what she could do and later came back to with me what I described in a pervious article as a "partial" grant of an appeal by sending me a copy of a Notice of Claim filed by Mauro Zonzini on December 1, 2008. This served my purposes at the time because it confirmed, in a sworn statement, the fact of Zonzini's arrest. The Notice of Claim is a sworn document signed by Mauro Zonzini.
In the Notice of Claim, Zonzini states that he was accused by Rye Police of impersonating a police officer after displaying the New Rochelle Police Foundation Shield and a City of New Rochelle ID card presented to him by New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll.
Named in the Notice of Claim are Rye Police Chief William L. Connors, Rye Police Officer Joseph Cancel, Rye Police Sergeant Susan Rigano, various unnamed Rye Police Officers, the City of Rye and the Rye Police Department.
Wilson says Zonzini failed to appear at a series of scheduled conferences to discuss the matter. Zonzini confirms that he did not pursue the claim.
After obtaining Rye Court and Rye Police records from Westchester County, Rye Corporation Counsel Kristin Wilson has not responded to repeated requests over the past week to explain why records provided under FOIL by the Westchester County Clerk were denied under the FOIL request made to the City of Rye four months earlier.
Talk of the Sound is not the only publication which has reported problems with FOIL in Rye, NY.
A second question is, why would Rye Corporation Counsel Kristin Wilson ignored repeated requests for comment on this matter in June 2013?
After his arrest, Zonzini says he called New Rochelle Police Commissioner Carroll and that Carroll called him back to tell him he had been charged with a Class C Felony and that there was nothing to be done for Zonzini as a result.
A third question is, who in Rye did Carroll call that night?
According to court papers later filed in Westchester County Court by Andrew J. Maggio, an attorney representing Zonzini, the District Attorney's file was marked "DISMISS" which Maggio believed to have been an instruction to the Assistant District Attorney appearing in Court indicating the matter was considered with more senior District Attorney staff prior to the first court appearance.
A fourth question is, if Maggio is correct and there was instruction given to the Assistant District Attorney appearing in Rye City Court to dismiss the weapons charge. does that indicate the matter was considered with more senior District Attorney staff prior to the first court appearance? And, if so, who and why?
After the Rye Court disposed of the case, Zonzini says the Rye Police Department gave him back his possessions except the City of New Rochelle ID Card and the New Rochelle Police Foundation Shield. He says he went to Rye repeatedly but for six weeks they refused to return the ID Card and Shield.
Zonzini says that Carroll intervened and that Rye Police Chief William L. Connors agreed to give the ID Card and Shield to a New Rochelle Police Officer.
Zonzini says that he then accompanied Police Officer Michael Young to Rye Police Headquarters, that Rye Police gave Officer Young the ID Card and Shield and that Young delivered both items to Zonzini.
A fifth question is, on what legal basis did this exchange take place?
This is a more important question than it might otherwise appear.
The ID Card is a City of New Rochelle document. It is signed by the New Rochelle Police Commissioner not the President of the Police Foundation. It has an image of the official New Rochelle Police Department insignia not a Foundation logo. But for the words "New Rochelle Police Foundation" on the card, the document has all the indications of being an official City of New Rochelle ID Card that would be issued to an employee of the New Rochelle Police Department. The card creates the strong appearance that the New Rochelle Police Foundation is a department within the City of New Rochelle government.
Depending on the terms under which the ID Card was given to Zonzini it is either Zonzini's property or property of the City of New Rochelle.
If is the property of the City of New Rochelle, that means that Zonzini was issued an official City of New Rochelle ID Card, as if he and all other Foundation Directors were City employees.
The Shield, according to Carroll, was clearly marked with the words "New Rochelle Police Foundation". The quality of the image is poor but there is no indication that the words "New Rochelle Police Foundation" are stamped onto the shield confiscated by Rye Police, as stated by Carroll.
Regardless, according to Carroll and Zonzini, the Shield was given to Zonzini, as it was until recently to all Directors of the Foundation, by the New Rochelle Police Foundation.
Depending on the terms under which the Shield was given to Zonzini it is either Zonzini's property or property of the Foundation, a 501c3 corporation that is a legally separate entity from the City of New Rochelle and the New Rochelle Police Department.
Given these possible combinations of ownership, the ID Card and Shield were both Zonzini's property or one was the property of the City of New Rochelle and one was the property of the Police Foundation. There is no scenario under which both items were property of the City of New Rochelle and none under which they were the property of the New Rochelle Police Department.
Asked about the ownership issue, Zonzini did not address the question directly. He said the ID Card and Shield were given to him by the Police Commissioner. Zonzini said the two items were his responsibility.
So a sixth question is, on what legal basis was the Rye Police Department withholding the two items after the entire matter had been disposed of in Rye City Court and the case sealed?
A seventh question is, on what legal basis did the Rye police transfer custody of the two items to the New Rochelle Police Department rather than Zonzini?
There are many other questions that need answers apart from the actions of the City of Rye in the entire matter but these are the key questions for the City of Rye and the Rye Police Department. Talk of the Sound will address non-Rye questions in a future article.
Zonzini was arrested in 2008 for impersonating a police officer and carrying two loaded firearms. He was charged with Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, a Class C Violent Felony. The charge was later reduced, then dropped, with Zonzini cited for a violation and paying a small fine. Zonzini has denied the account of Rye Police with regard to his arrest.
This article is the seventh in a series.