LOCKPORT — Local auto repair shop owner Dave Mongielo’s attempt at “citizen journalism” caused the husband of a town board member to physically confront him inside a Robinson Road restaurant back in May.
Now, Mongielo is asking the court to return legally registered firearms he was forced to surrender to law enforcement as a result of separate orders issued in the ongoing case by a county judge and a judge in the Town of Royalton.
During a hearing Friday in Niagara County court, Mongielo’s attorney, James Ostrowski, asked county Judge John Ottaviano to reconsider his order, arguing that his client was not the aggressor in the May 10 incident and that the state statutes being applied in the case lack clarity.
“I do believe the various statutes we are dealing with in this case are unconstitutional,” Ostrowski said.
The case stems from a May 10 incident inside a Robinson Road restaurant where Mongielo stopped for breakfast and saw a group of town officials, including Town Supervisor Mark Crocker, fellow town board members Patricia Dufour and Darlene DiCarlo, Highway Superintendent Dave Miller and Dufour’s husband, Ralph, sitting together at a table.
In court on Friday, Mongielo testified that he took out his cell phone and began taking video of the group because he intended to ask the town board members questions about property tax reassessments.
Before he could ask any questions, Mongielo testified, in keeping with statements he made to a sheriff’s deputy who filed a report on the incident, that Ralph Dufour got up from the table, approached him in an aggressive manner and knocked his cell phone out of his hand.
Mongielo testified that Dufour’s actions cracked his cell phone’s cover. He also claimed that, after Dufour knocked his phone out of his hand, DiCarlo pushed and slapped him.
Dufour has been charged with one count of fourth-degree criminal mischief and one count of second-degree harassment.
No charges were filed against DiCarlo.
“I did none of those things and video surveillance proves that. I think that it is a personal thing,” DiCarlo said during a telephone interview on Friday afternoon.
Due to a conflict of interest, Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman’s office is not prosecuting Dufour’s case, which is instead being handled by Orleans County District Attorney Joe Cardone as special prosecutor.
When reached by telephone late Friday, Patricia Dufour declined comment, saying only that she and her husband have retained legal counsel and the matter is in the court system.
Mongielo was initially charged with three counts of second-degree harassment. On Friday, he said two of those counts have since been dropped. He previously appeared in the Town of Royalton court on the single harassment charge.
In court on Friday, Mongielo testified that Crocker and DiCarlo personally objected to petitions filed by him and 20 other residents who were attempting to run for positions on the Lockport Republican Committee. The objections led to the petitions filed by Mongielo and the other committee candidates being disqualified by the Niagara County Board of Elections.
Mongielo also testified that he believed, because three of the five members of the town council were seated together inside the restaurant, their May 10 gathering represented a quorum, which is the minimum number of elected officials needed to be present in order for a meeting to be considered legal.
Describing himself as a “citizen journalist,” Mongielo testified that he often takes video while asking public officials about political and governmental issues and has posted those videos as part of reports he produces for Facebook and other social media sites. He estimated that his videos have had more than 100,000 viewers this year.
In commentary accompanying the video of the restaurant encounter that he captured on his cell phone, Mongielo describes himself as a “video journalist” who has “every right” to ask town officials questions.
DiCarlo said she doesn’t disagree with the need for public officials to answer questions from members of the public, Mongielo included. She added, however, that she does not think it is unreasonable for residents to treat public officials respectably.
“We’re happy to answer his questions if he does it in a respectable manner, but he did not,” she said.
DiCarlo described Mongielo’s decision to approach town officials that day as “bad timing,” saying they had breakfast at the restaurant on May 10 to comfort a grieving co-worker whose son had passed away the previous week.
As to Mongielo describing himself as a “video” or “citizen” journalist, DiCarlo said she does not consider him a member of the press nor does he act like one.
“He has a history of just trying to say the town board is corrupt and doing things they shouldn’t be and he’s got no proof,” she said.
Both Ottaviano and a judge in Royalton granted orders of protection in the case.
Following Friday’s court appearance, Ostrowski said, in order for Mongielo to have his firearms returned, he will have to convince both Ottaviano and the judge in Royalton to reconsider their orders.
Ostrowski told Ottaviano that he planned to submit as evidence in the case video of the confrontation from inside the restaurant that was taken on Mongielo’s cell phone. He also intends to give the court a copy of another cell phone video obtained by a sheriff’s deputy who responded to the scene that was taken by a restaurant employee. In addition, Ostrowski told the judge he would submit a photo of Mongielo’s damaged cell phone.
Ottaviano said he would review the evidence and consider Mongielo’s testimony before rendering a decision.
Mongielo is scheduled to return to Town of Royalton Court on Oct. 11.