The superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police has accused Mayor Allan Fung and his administration of “secretive interference” in the operations of the Cranston Police Department through a …
UPDATE, 2:55 p.m., Aug. 3: Rhode Island State Police have released the full report outlining their assessment of the Cranston Police Department. The report is available here. Stay with the Herald for more as this story develops.
The superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police has accused Mayor Allan Fung and his administration of “secretive interference” in the operations of the Cranston Police Department through a scathing letter outlining the findings of a long-awaited assessment.
Fung, during a rare appearance before the City Council on Monday, said he understood the potential for criticism from the outset, does not regret seeking the assessment, and has already taken “substantial steps” to address what he characterized as decades-old issues within the department.
“I realize my administration and I can do better, and we will do better … Hindsight is always 20/20,” the mayor said. “These structural problems didn’t start with my administration … I will take ownership of fixing them.”
But many council members remain highly critical of Fung, demanding both more answers and the full, public release of the document. A Wednesday night executive session the mayor had called was canceled, with council members first wanting a legal decision on how much of the report can be released.
“Mayor Fung, I’m embarrassed for you,” Council President John Lanni said, calling it a “sad day” for the city.
“It will be an even sadder day if Mayor Fung tries to block the release of the report,” he added, saying the council would do “everything in its power” to fight such a move.
“[Fung] did create the problems. If there were problems … he made the problems worse,” Ward 1 Councilman Steven Stycos said. “It’s been all about damage control from the mayor’s office.”
Monday’s meeting came amid major developments in the ongoing fallout from the so-called “Ticketgate” episode of November 2013, in which Stycos and Ward 3 Councilman Paul Archetto allege their neighborhoods were blanketed with overnight parking tickets as an act of political retaliation following a committee vote against a new contract with International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 301.
Weeks after those allegations became public in December – and after at first announcing plans to hire an outside investigator to review the results of an internal probe – Fung placed now-retired Col. Marco Palombo on paid leave, and asked state police to provide temporary leadership for the Cranston department, investigate the ticketing, and conduct a broad assessment of the department’s operations and multiple personnel issues.
The written report containing the findings of that assessment is now complete, as O’Donnell informed Fung in the letter dated July 22 and copied to Lanni.
Fung said he and Assistant City Solicitor Evan Kirshenbaum picked the report up Friday during a visit to O’Donnell’s office in Scituate. Also present were State Police Lt. Col. Kevin Barry and Capt. Matthew Moynihan, who served as acting chief and executive officer, respectively, of the Cranston department during a 10-month period last year.
The July 22 letter – which Lanni had pledged to release, and became public hours before Monday’s meeting – outlines the timeline of the state police assessment and provides broad details of its findings. It is also, at multiple points, openly – and sharply – critical of the mayor and his administration.
O’Donnell writes that the assessment “morphed into a more intensive review into the cultural practices and personnel complaints of members of the organization, who came forward to share their experiences.”
“There was a consistent theme that pointed to a lack of leadership and mistrust within the highest levels of the department,” the letter reads.
Addressing Fung, the letter continues: “Complaints were also received about political interference and influence from you and your staff, as well as the extraordinary relationship between the IBPO, Local 301 President Stephen Antonucci, the Chief of Police Marco Palombo, Jr., and you.”
O’Donnell writes that more than 50 people were interviewed “in order to obtain a fair and impartial overview of the issues that were raised,” and those interviews “exposed the root causes of the deep problems within the department.”
O’Donnell’s letter additionally reveals the rationale behind the assignment of Moynihan to assist Barry in Cranston, using terms that have become common in describing the factionalism that has existed within the department.
“After Captain Barry assumed command, he recognized that there was a voice in leadership at the top of the department, as well as a divide between personnel,” O’Donnell writes. “We later learned that this was characterized as the ‘A’ and ‘B’ Teams. Based on this information, I thought it prudent to assign [Moynihan] to assist Barry.”
O’Donnell writes that the offices of both Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha have reviewed the state police findings, and it was “their conclusion that, from the information presented, there was insufficient evidence to support the probable cause standard needed for an arrest and/or indictment.”
Among the matters investigated as part of the assessment, the letter indicates, were the paid suspension of Todd Patalano, then a captain and now a major; allegations of misconduct against retired Maj. Robert Ryan; the forced medical retirement of Capt. Thomas Dodd; Capt. Stephen Antonucci’s role in “Ticketgate,” for which he was charged with misconduct and has since reached an agreement to drop litigation against the city and retire; Capt. Karen Gilbeault’s allegations of gender discrimination; and the demotion of Officer Matthew Josefson.
The letter indicates state police also investigated “NetCenergy, hiring of private investigators to conduct surveillance on members, the alleged problems with the promotional system, allegations of illegal audio recordings, and the overall mistreatment of members of the department.”
“Although the conduct did not rise to the level of a criminal prosecution, in some instances there was sufficient evidence to move forward with internal departmental charges,” O’Donnell writes. “During the tenure of Captain Barry and Lieutenant Moynihan, two members of the department resigned over allegations of wrongdoing, and one of them, Captain Antonucci, may well have been facing additional internal charges after the assessment was brought forward to the Chief of Police.”
The other officer who resigned over allegations of wrongdoing is not identified, nor is any additional detail provided.
In two instances, O’Donnell’s letter directly questions or criticizes Fung’s decision-making and behavior. The first involves the mayor’s apparent unwillingness to hand over to state police an “assessment [that] had been completed upon [Fung’s] transition” to his first term as mayor.
Barry and Moynihan, O’Donnell writes, “requested that you provide us with this assessment in order to properly lay a foundation for a historical perspective on the police department. You refused to turn over this document. To this day, we are not sure why.”
Kirshenbaum on Monday addressed that document, saying it was not an official assessment but a summary completed on an unofficial basis before the mayor took office.
“That’s all this was, it was a transitional tool,” he said, adding that the explanation he provided to the council was the same he had provided to Barry and Moynihan.
In the second instance, O’Donnell writes that Fung in September 2014 quietly agreed to bring Antonucci back to the force with “minor sanctions.” Antonucci – who has acknowledged ordering the “Ticketgate” blitz, but denies political motivation – had been facing the recommendation his employment be terminated, and the matter was tied up in the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) hearing process and related litigation before the recent announcement of a settlement.
O’Donnell writes that Fung – who was in the midst of an unsuccessful run for governor – did not disclose the deal with Antonucci to him and Winquist until November 2014.
That leads to perhaps the most critical passage in the letter:
“You told both of us that he was returning to the police department irrespective of how we felt. This behavior illustrates one of the core problems which came to light during the assessment, the secretive interference by you and your staff in the operations of the police department. You still have not explained why you made this decision in September, but waited until mid-November to advise us. Although you have not explained it, your rationale is very clear to me.”
The letter continues: “I am aware that you reversed your decision based on a meeting that took place on December 4, 2014 at City Hall, with several key members regarding the Captain Antonucci matter. At the meeting you presented a plan to have Captain Antonucci return to the department as a Captain, which was met with strong opposition. As a result, you asked [Antonucci’s legal council] Attorney [William] Conley if Captain Antonucci would return with a demotion to the rank of Lieutenant, but after consultation Captain Antonucci refused this offer. I detail this to you Mayor, so we have a clear understanding on why this deal never came to fruition at that time.”
O’Donnell in the letter estimates that “at a minimum, $500,000 in State Police resources were used for [Fung’s] requested assessment and management of the Cranston Police Department.” That figure, he writes, “includes the assignment of Captain Barry and Lieutenant Moynihan to oversee and manage the day-to-day operations of the Cranston Police Department for ten (10) months.”
Monday’s meeting served as the first opportunity for officials to, in the same room, react to the recent developments. Coincidentally, the discussion of O’Donnell’s letter and the state police assessment came as the council approved a new contract with Local 301 – a pact that garnered unanimous support and universal praise.
The proceedings were frequently heated. During discussion of an unrelated matter on the agenda, Lanni at one point refused to let Fung speak.
At other points, administration and council members spoke over one another with voices raised. With a mayoral election looming in 2016, some political barbs were also traded, including between council members.
The mayor was the first to speak during the public comment portion of the agenda, which began the meeting. Council Chambers were packed with police personnel, along with television cameras and representatives of multiple media outlets.
“I have read the full report and continue to digest it,” Fung said, adding that he has requested that the attorney general’s office review the document to determine what portions may be made public. He and others cited concerns over potential references to personnel and medical records, which are not public information.
The mayor had released the following statement – his first public response – hours before the council meeting:
“A preliminary review of this report by City Solicitor Christopher Rawson revealed the confidential nature of much of its contents, including personally identifiable health information, confidential personnel matters, pending litigation, and investigations. In response to these concerns, Solicitor Rawson and I delivered a copy of the assessment report to the Office of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. I have formally requested an advisory opinion from the Attorney General as to which contents may be appropriate for public disclosure.
“My intention has always been transparency about this report and I await the opinion from the Attorney General’s office about what portions may be public. In addition, I have called for a meeting with the City Council on Wednesday to update them and allow access to the report.”
Fung on Monday additionally said he is considering whether to pursue the establishment of a cabinet-level public safety commissioner position for the city.
“I think we should take a look at whether it’s feasible,” he said.
Several council members and others expressed frustration over the referral of the report to the attorney general, noting that Kilmartin’s office has already reviewed the document for potential criminality.
Some council members also noted that the idea of a public safety commissioner has been discussed on the legislative side for some time. Several, including Lanni and Citywide Councilman Michael Farina, said they support the creation of the position.
“I believe that we have a right to know everything that’s in that police report,” said Michael Sepe, chairman of the Cranston Democratic City Committee and a likely candidate for mayor. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be fooled. Don’t let people circle the wagons.”
Stycos called for two specific next steps – first, for the full release of the report, and second, for a public meeting at which the mayor answers to it.
“That report has to be public … because nobody in the public is going to be satisfied until they know what’s going on,” he said. “The mayor has to come before the council at a public meeting and answer to what’s in that report, and answer questions from the council, and answer questions from the public … “We need to talk about the police report, we need to see it, we need to have a full accounting of it.”
Ward 4 Councilman Mario Aceto pointed to the $500,000 figure cited in O’Donnell’s letter, a cost he said impacts all the state’s taxpayers.
“This isn’t a political issue, this is a taxpayer issue,” he said.
Council Vice President Richard Santamaria pointed to the tone and substance of O’Donnell’s letter.
“These are some serious allegations here … All the answers we’ve been getting are no better than a stonewall,” he said. “If I were the mayor, I would want to answer these.”
Archetto said he continues to seek a full accounting of the “Ticketgate” episode.
“To this day, we don’t know what happened that night,” he said.
Archetto also called for the release of the full state police report.
“These are dangerous allegations,” he said. “We must see the report.”
Farina urged caution, acknowledging the “really negative buzz words” in O’Donnell’s letter but saying the context of the full report is needed to judge the mayor’s actions. He also said he shares concerns over personnel and medical information being improperly released.
“I tend to want to protect the officers that are still on the police force,” he said.
Ward 2 Councilman Don Botts said it is “tantamount that government be transparent to its constituents.” Given the apparent cost of the state police assessment, he said the document “better be pretty damn good … that’s a lot of money for a lot of paper.”
Botts also spoke of the need to protect personnel and medical information, and of the positive direction in which the Cranston department is moving. While he also wants the report to be made public, he said, “I do think we need to do some due diligence first.”
Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas also acknowledged the privacy concerns, but said “transparency will bring trust.”
“I think we need to be 100-percent transparent with the report,” he said.
Lanni said the references to police department factionalism in O’Donnell’s letter are part of an old dynamic, one deeply tied to City Hall politics.
“That’s what happened in Cranston for years and years, cliques,” he said, with competing factions supporting different candidates in an attempt to gain supremacy.
Lanni and others were uniform, though, in their praise for the department’s rank-and-file, and for the work Winquist has done since his arrival.
“In the last 10 months, I’ve seen a complete turnaround in the Cranston Police Department,” Lanni said.