A state jury acquitted a Hicksville man Friday in a town code enforcement case that’s lasted for more than a decade.
The six-person jury in Nassau County District Court found Darren Thomas, 57, not guilty of violating sections of Oyster Bay Town code that require a certificate of occupancy and a special-use permit for a two-family home.
“I feel absolutely vindicated,” Thomas, a U.S. Postal Service supervisor, said after the verdict was announced. “I’m happy it’s over, finally.”
The town issued the misdemeanor charges against Thomas in 2008 after he purchased the house on Fourth Street. Garden City-based attorney Christopher Kendric, who represented the town in the trial, argued the Thomas home is in a single-family zone. He showed the jury large photos of the house with two doorbells and electric meters installed on its exterior.
Kendric and Deputy Town Attorney Matthew Rozea declined to comment after the trial, and a spokesman for the town didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thomas’ attorney, Harry Kutner Jr. of Mineola, argued during the trial that the Thomas home is taxed as a two-family residence and that previous town code inspectors had found the structure to be a legal two-family dwelling. He also said the house was built before an ordinance that established the neighborhood as a one-family zone and that all the former owners used it as a two-family house.
Kutner said in closing arguments Thursday that the town’s prosecution is “shameful; it’s disgusting” and that Thomas and his wife, Marlene Thomas, have been “living under a cloud" since they bought the property.
“This town’s prosecution was 100 percent through and through racist-based,” Kutner said after the trial. “For him [Thomas] to have the stamina and the courage to face this for 11 years is amazing.”
In a pretrial hearing last month, District Judge Scott Fairgrieve barred Kutner from discussing the racial bias allegations in front of the jury. Kutner has raised the issue in previous state and federal lawsuits, alleging the town targeted Thomas because he is black, while none of the previous owners, who are white, were prosecuted.
In 2011, Thomas sued Oyster Bay in state court to stop the criminal prosecution on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and “racially based.”
Thomas lost that case, and in 2014, appealed in state court and filed a separate civil case in federal court. In 2017 he lost his appeal, and the state Court of Appeals declined to hear a further appeal, Kutner said. Thomas filed a separate case in federal court last year seeking to overturn the 2017 state ruling.
Kutner said he’s now requesting a federal court “fast track” the civil case, in which he alleges Thomas’ “civil rights were violated because of his race” and is seeking damages.