By Ray O’Hanlon
Yonkers has paid out $700,000 to nine Irish and Irish Americans who sued the Westchester city following a December 1991 altercation with police in which seven of them were actually arrested.
The settlement sum arises from an $8 million civil suit brought against Yonkers and its troubled police department.
The civil suit itself came in the wake of separate criminal trials involving three of the plaintiffs and two police officers.
“This ought to be a major wake up call for the people of Yonkers,” said attorney Brian O’Dwyer, who, along with fellow attorney Peter Neufeld, represented the plaintiffs.
“I’m delighted with the outcome, it sends a real message and also says the Irish community in this area is not to be trifled with,” O’Dwyer said.
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Attorney Neufeld told the New York Times that the size of the award was a clear victory for the Irish immigrants and for other minorities who had been physically abused by the Yonkers police over the years.
Yonkers Corporation Counsel William Mooney indicated that the city had made a business decision in agreeing to the payment because a civil jury renders a verdict based on just a preponderance of evidence, as opposed to evidence beyond reasonable doubt.
Mooney told the Times that the city stood behind its police force and did not believe it had violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.
The civil suit was rooted in a fracas involving the group and police in the parking lot of a Yonkers restaurant, Cornyn Coach ‘n’ Four.
The group had been attending a Christening party on the night of Dec. 2, 1991. As they were leaving the restaurant, police were called by a resident complaining of noise.
In the melee which followed, seven people were arrested. Two of the seven, Patrick McNulty and Patrick Lilly, were later to allege that they were taken in a squad car to the parking lot of Yonkers train station, where they were beaten by officers with nightsticks.
McNulty and Lilly together with a third man, Colm Nolan, all from the Bellcoo area of County Fermanagh, later went to trial on criminal charges of assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
However, all three men were acquitted on all counts by a Yonkers jury on Aug. 31, 1992.
The restaurant confrontation also led to two police officers, Michael Buono and Bruce Nickels, being tried on federal charges of violating civil rights. Both officers were also acquitted.
The subsequent civil suit, brought by the nine against Yonkers and a dozen police officers, alleged that the group had been subjected to “vile and obscene names, including slurs deprecating both their Irish origin and their Irish citizenship.”
It further alleged that they had “suffered economic loss, mental anguish and distress, trauma and humiliation,” because of the incident.
Seven of the nine who took the case were considered primary plaintiffs while two were considered to be “derivative cases.”
The settlement sum will be divided among eight individuals as one of the nine, Paul Stoker, died before his name was fully vindicated.
The eight are McNulty, Lilly and Nolan, Margaret Nolan, Charles Denning, Martina Lilly, Theresa McNulty, and Bridget Stoker, widow of the deceased.