Marine Park residents are reflecting on the lessons of one of the neighborhoods most traumatic events after the so-called “Stuart Street sniper” was sentenced to eight years in prison for spraying the street with semi-automatic gunfire in 2011.
Thomas Dunikowski pleaded guilty to first-degree assault before his sentencing earlier this month, finally closing a case that divided the neighborhood.
Dunikowski lashed out at a group of teens causing a ruckus on his block, firing 27 rounds into the crowd with an assault rifle from an upstairs window of his home, hitting one of the rowdy teens and injuring two bystanders with ricochets, according to court documents.
At the time, one of the ricochet victims reportedly called Dunikowski a “hero” for his actions, but after his sentencing, one local community leader said he hopes others learn a lesson about vigilantism.
“We’re supposed to be a civilized society — governed by laws and rules — and we need to keep it that way,” said Jim Ivaliotis, past president of the Marine Park Civic Association. “We can’t let ourselves lose our own guard and take things into our own hands.”
Lew Fidler, who was Marine Park’s councilman at the time of the incident, said the shooter’s guilty plea means he must have realized shooting his Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle at a group of unarmed youngsters was wrong.
“Obviously he realized he was culpable,” said Fidler. “The bottom line is you can’t take out a weapon and start firing at unarmed kids.”
His lawyer conceded that Dunikowski does acknowledge what he did was against the law.
“He accepted responsibility for his actions and he has expressed remorse,” said attorney Jay Schwitzman.
But Schwitzman maintained that ultimately the incident was provoked by the rambunctious youngsters who were reportedly kicking over trash cans and throwing garbage on Dunikowski lawn.
“The case did arise from a group of hooligans descending on peaceful residences on a Friday night,” said Jay Schwitzman, Dunikowski’s attorney. “It was a very difficult case and a lot of emotions on both sides.”
Ivaliotis said that no matter how high tempers rise, community members should check their impulses.
“All of us should think a little before we react to things,” he said.
Dunikowski was tried last summer — facing attempted murder charges and sentence of up to 25 years — but the case ended in a mistrial.
After Dunikowski completes his eight-year sentence, he will have five years of post-release supervision, according to a spokeswoman from the District Attorney’s Office.