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Officials: Hagerman firefighters acquitted in East Wind melee

The three exonerated firefighters were immediately reinstated by the fire department, officials said.

A jury has acquitted three Hagerman firefighters of misdemeanor assault after a March melee with a wedding party at a Wading River catering hall, officials said.

All three were immediately reinstated by the fire department on Monday, the same day the verdict was reached, officials said.  

First Lt. Corey Citarella, 30, of East Patchogue, described what it was like to stand trial for trying to "do the right thing" by attempting to break up a fight after the department's installation ceremony at East Winds Caterers. 

"It was a real gut wrench feeling," he said. Now, "We have all had our names cleared."

Authorities at the time said the groom suffered injuries to his face and upper body and two Riverhead police officers were treated for hand injuries. Attempts to reach the groom were not successful.

All three defendants testified, and the jury viewed surveillance video, Citarella said.

Now that he has been cleared, Citarella said he could refocus on what matters to him: "I enjoy 110 percent helping people out, helping my community out and making people happy."

A separate jury on March 27 acquitted a fourth firefighter, First Asst. Chief Thomas Dunham, 55, of East Patchogue, of resisting arrest and convicted him of obstructing governmental administration.

Riverhead police had said Dunham "went after" a police sergeant. Dunham said he arrived on scene after the incident and told police if they were going to arrest fellow firefighters "you might as well arrest me also."

Dunham said the legal ordeal "was a drag through the mud. All I want is for my family to get back to normal."

The jury cleared his son Brendan, 21, of assault. The jury acquitted Dunham's son Andrew, 29, of assault and harassment.

Thomas Dunham's lawyer, Christopher Ross, said he is appealing the elder Dunham's obstruction conviction. Dunham was sentenced on June 25 to 3 years of probation and fined $505, according to prosecutors. 

Dunham said he suffered a concussion after his arrest and returned to the fire department after doctors cleared him at the end of April. Riverhead police did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

A spokeswoman for Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini confirmed the verdicts and declined to comment on either of them.

In a statement, Thomas Bilka, chairman of the Hagerman Fire District's board of commissioners, said the district and department was "happy that the justice system rendered a verdict, which affirmed the innocence of the volunteer firefighters involved in the incident at East Winds."

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