The ‘-gate’ suffix has become something of a cliche and many of these scandals often fail to compare to the downfall of Richard Nixon. But a new report, issued by the Rhode Island State Police on Monday, certainly paints an image not unlike the Woodward and Bernstein template.
What began in January 2014 with the issuing of a flurry of illicit parking tickets, TicketGate, seen as payback to city councilors for rejecting a police union contract, has snowballed into an exposé of a Department “in turmoil and hampered by a lack of leadership.” Officers were pitted against each other for favor with the chief and mayor from their first day on the job. Employees secretly recorded their conversations with each other so to protect their futures. Private investigators were hired to monitor officers, something going against both past practices and procedure. An unmarked car detail to monitor the activities of a civilian computer technician was directed to leave the jurisdiction of the city of Cranston and which was marked down on overtime sheets as part of another ongoing investigation. And at the center of the report’s diagnosis is Mayor Allan Fung, who came to the office promising fiscal conservatism but is now facing over $5,000,000 in liability from lawsuits brought by officers, fees for the investigations both legitimate and illicit, and expenses to pay the pensions of officers who were put on disability for reasons having more to do with realpolitik than actual ailments.
“The Department is run like the Mafia.”
The Cranston Police Department had for some time now operated with a schism in it. Officers were in either ‘Team A’ or ‘Team B’, pitted against each other for favor and promotions based solely on whether they were on the correct side of this imaginary line. When a rookie officer was brought in, they were automatically designated to a team and therefore their allegiances set in stone based on who they were partnered with as they were broken in for duty. The two groups competed against and actively sabotaged each other, with regulations and rules strictly enforced with harsh punishment for some while others, including the leadership of the force, ignored the same statutes.
As early as his 2008 election, Allan Fung was allegedly actively participating in the scheme, making promises to oust a sitting Chief and shuttle through a union contract in exchange for votes. The report includes the following:
Many Department members described how the shift in leadership was orchestrated by some within the Department, saying there was an agreement between IBPO, Local 301 President [Captain Stephen J.] Antonucci and then-Captain [Marco] Palombo [Jr.]. In exchange for support with the measure to reach a “no confidence vote” against Colonel [Stephen] McGrath, the union would support Captain Palombo as the next Chief of Police. The Executive Board of the IBPO, Local 301, led by President Antonucci, shared a good relationship with Mayor Fung and supported his 2008 mayoral campaign. There were widespread allegations within the rank and file of the Department that the IBPO, Local 301, offered its support to Mayor Fung’s campaign in exchange for the removal of Colonel McGrath as Chief and the settlement of the ongoing labor contract. It is of note that Colonel McGrath did retire, and the labor contract was ratified after Mayor Fung’s election.
Fung has denied any sort of bargain existed prior to his election. It was Antonucci who directed the revenge ticketing in January 2014.
After Palombo became chief, it appears that he ran the Department as his own personal fiefdom, refusing to answer to anyone but Mayor Fung. This included hiring and promotion decisions, disciplinary actions, and even verifying that injured officers were not faking their inability to work. Section 2.6 of the report included a selection of quotes that are worth repeating:
-“The Colonel needs to be replaced with someone from the outside, because anyone from within will have the same problems of the ‘good old boy’ network.”
-“The Colonel is a bully who has completely abused his power on some members.”
Mayor Fung was made aware of these issues multiple times and continued to retain the services of Palombo despite a growing and visible trend of demoralization and lack of confidence. With the appointment of Michael J. Winquist, an outsider, as Chief of Police, problematic culture has abated, but the legacy of Palombo remains, including officers with careers cut short or hindered significantly by his actions.
“I feel safer on the street than when I am inside the Cranston Police Headquarters building.”
The stories of Captain Todd Patalano and Officer Matthew Josefson illustrate the level of paranoia within the ranks. Both men actively recorded conversations with superiors frequently out of interests in self-preservation, as did other officers. Both men were targeted for harassment and disciplinary action for minute offenses.
In Patalano’s case, he was placed on paid leave for 22 months on charges that the State Police ruled were groundless, who also said the suspension “displayed a lack of fiscal responsibility.” In another instance, after being injured on duty while moving some office materials, Palombo went as far as hiring a private investigator to monitor an officer who “ranks among the very best police officers I have worked with… Rhode Islanders, and especially the citizens of Cranston and the dedicated men and women of the Cranston Police Department, should be justly proud to be served by Captain Patalano”, according Fung’s own lawyer, Attorney Vincent Ragosta. When Palombo was summoned by Superior Court to testify regarding the Patalano issue, the Constable serving the summons was told on five different occasions that the Chief was unavailable. After Palombo brought a third complaint against Patalano, Michael J. Winquist, the current Chief in Cranston who was then a Captain with the State Police, wrote the following:
The timing of the Cranston Police Department bringing this complaint to our agency is questionable. It appears that the ultimate goal is to terminate Captain Patalano’s employment with the Cranston Police Department.
Patalano’s lawyer, Attorney Joseph F. Penza, Jr., himself said he felt a certain level of intimidation. The report includes this description:
[H]e felt fearful that something might be done to him in an attempt to discredit him and impact the Patalano case. Attorney Penza stated that he began to double-check his car doors to ensure that they were locked when his car was unattended, fearing that someone might plant contraband within his car. Attorney Penza advised in all the years that he has been practicing law and dealing with numerous cases involving dangerous people, this was the first time he had this sick feeling. Attorney Penza advised that the allegations against Captain Patalano were so outrageous and the lengths they would go to in an effort to prosecute him, gave him the sense that anything was possible.
Section 8 of the report, DEMOTION OF SERGEANT MATTHEW JOSEFSON, is a story begging for the adjective ‘Kafka-esque’. After an arrest package was found to have been placed in a recycling bin in the Station, Josefson prepared a memorandum for the Office of Professional Standards that said “This is not the first time that something I did for work has been sabotaged”. When his complaint was heard by OPS, they turned the proceedings into an inquisition and, instead of pursuing the story of “a series of events that illustrated his allegations that he was being set up to fail”, he was charged with lying on his original memorandum because the arrest package was missing one page. The footnotes to this section drive the point home:
The paperwork, with the exception of one…document, required to arraign the defendant before the Justice of the Peace could have been reproduced/reprinted by anyone within the Cranston Police Department currently on duty as it was saved within the Department’s Record Management System (RMS)… The required complaint form could have easily been produced by an on-duty officer as all required information to produce this form was contained within the RMS database.
From there, things went from bad to worse. Upon discovering that Josefson was recording conversations, permissible under Rhode Island laws, the Department tried to have him charged with felony wire-tapping. They went his house and demanded all copies of his recordings, which they claimed were produced despite Department policy, then put him in a do-or-die stranglehold where he needed to either be demoted to Patrolman or face termination under the auspices of a rushed ‘last chance’ agreement. While on suspension, again Palombo hired a private investigator to monitor Josefson. The report includes this following passage:
We learned when an existing policy is revised, a new Microsoft Word document is created and the revisions are highlighted in yellow for easy identification of the modifications… The document is then forwarded to all Department members via the IMC email system to ensure complete dissemination of the revised policy. Simply opening the email is considered confirmation that the policy has been read and understood by a Department member… [N]o new revised rules and regulations containing the recording prohibition language had been disseminated to members through the IMC email system. In addition and as noted previously, numerous members of the Department advised that they were unaware of the recording prohibition contained within the rules and regulations until Sergeant Josefson was disciplined.
Or consider the story of Captain Karen Guilbeault, an account that describes blatant systemic sexism reaching into City Hall. Guilbeault repeatedly filed gender discrimination complaints to no avail and her case describes a promotion process rife with undue interference. Former Director of Personnel Susan Bello said the following in her testimony:
[I]n 2012, things kind of came to a head because as officers were coming in to review scores and that kind of thing…they started coming forth about things: that there…was improper targeting; that people were getting improper discipline. And I was most familiar with some…irregularities with Karen…Guilbeault. Because she had come to me and said that there were some things that were improper…[T]hey…didn’t make formal complaints with me, but what was complained to me repeatedly was that once Palombo came into office, that they could not go to the union because the union was picking and choosing whose grievance they wanted to go forward based on whether they were liked by the union or by Palombo. So when people were starting to come to me and say we can’t do anything, because, you know, my response would be go to the union and file a grievance, and I was told repeatedly that…the union, because they were in bed with Palombo, wouldn’t do anything about it. So these things started to filter through to me. But what…I was privy to directly was during the exam process in 2012,…there was an attempt to get the scores. And I am missing one email, but I do believe that I was contacted sometime in the beginning of October, and I believe it was by Major Ryan, in that they wanted the scores. The…pressure was clearly regarding the captains’ scores primarily, then the lieutenants’. There wasn’t that much interest in the sergeants’ scores. But I was contacted by them demanding to see the scores of the written exam for captain, and at that point, I said no,…you’d never get the scores: the Mayor doesn’t get the scores; the scores are…protected by law…They were claiming: oh, we don’t want anybody’s name and we don’t want anybody’s direct score, we just want the range. But in the case of Karen Guilbeault, since she was the highest scorer, if I for some reason illegally gave them those scores, they would automatically know because they had the other four scores that oh, that was her score.
Guilbeault had tried to attain a higher rank repeatedly and was denied while other officers were given promotions that violated the City Charter. The level of institutionalized discrimination has delayed her advancement despite serving seventeen years on the force.
Captain Thomas Dodd was another officer of high standing who seems to have simply gotten in the way of Fung. On July 22, 2013, Fung was instrumental in getting Dodd put on a disability pension despite the fact that doctors felt the officer did not qualify. Cranston City Councilman Richard Santamaria later said of his vote to grant Dodd the pension “I wish I could have that one back.” Dodd went on to file a complaint and requested an injunction from Superior Court to prevent him from being forced into retirement. Two days after Dodd was retired, Stephen Antonucci, the police union president and later head of the illicit ticketing, was promoted to fill the vacancy.
“So I no longer have to feel my safety is in jeopardy?”
In February 2013, Palombo was a man on a mission. The City and Police Department had a computer network that was part of a larger City of Cranston schematic. Both due to a convoluted process in obtaining files and Palombo’s own security concerns, the Chief ordered the implementation of a process of separating the two systems. On February 14, Palombo insisted on that day he required a set of passcodes from a computer technician contracted by the City. The technician’s name, company, and residence have been redacted from the report, but the individual in question was the Vice President of the company at the time. When Palombo was told the tech could not provide him the requested passcodes, the Chief flew into a rage. One witness said this in the report:
[I]t’s mid to late morning. At this point, the Colonel didn’t want to hear it anymore and basically, again, it appeared to be like a psychotic episode where he flipped out, and he was screaming at this guy to surrender the credentials, and the guy was trying to tell him I….I can’t, I got to get back to the technicians and stop…
After getting off the phone call, Palombo sent a squad car out of their jurisdiction to the technician’s home in another city. After spending a few hours monitoring the man’s home, the tech was able to get the codes delivered to the Chief Records Clerk. The tech called Mayor Fung, who convened an 8:30 am meeting that Palombo failed to appear at. Fung then sent him an e-mail message that reads:
I am extremely disappointed to hear that you failed to show up at the 8:30 AM meeting that Director Cordy had requested by text last night to you regarding the IT situation at the police Department…Thus, please be available this afternoon at 2PM so that we can discuss this entire situation and how we need to move forward.
On February 24, Cranston City Director of Administration Gerald Cordy received this anonymously mailed letter:
We had another incident occurring involving our chief who yelled at a rep from a computer company who works for our police Department and had some codes the chief wanted. Maj. Ryan said the chief yelled and sweared at the guy and threatened him… What is happening again is more assignments given by the chief to fight and push people around. He’s using us to threaten the computer guy. After the chief made threats to the computer guy he sent Maj. Ryan to make us follow the guy like a criminal because he argued with him. Most of us refused OT [overtime]. We can’t work on criminal cases cause (sic) OT has been stopped but we can go make OT and follow the guy who lived in…and follow him all night and write down everywhere he goes. The detective was told to fill out an OT slip and put he worked on a robbery case because city hall would find out. The OT slip has a fake reason so you won’t know the chief has a detective follow a guy for this reason. The chief said he don’t (sic) answer to Cordy only the mayor. Making us do things we can’t do is illegal and we got no jurisdiction in… The whole place has no trust or moral [sic] left here. We think is it almost criminal to make a detective lie or he won’t get paid to hide it from you. They didn’t want the OT reason to say the surveillance on the computer guy.
No investigation or disciplinary proceedings were ever taken up by the Department in response to this incident. On March 17, 2014, Palombo announced his retirement.
“This is political.”
With the appointment of Chief Winquist, the infighting and ‘Team A’-‘Team B’ rivalry did seem to die down. But even after his appointment, apparently Fung was set on preserving some of the old culture. On November 10, 2014, Fung and Winquist had a meeting where he insisted that the Chief support his decision to re-instate Captain Antonucci, the leader of the illicit ticketing at the beginning of that year. Winquist refused, stating that he felt the impending review of the officer’s termination should run its course while the Mayor’s interference in Department affairs would seriously affect Winquist’s standing in his new position. Fung said the situation “dragged on long enough and it was time for Stephen to join the team to help move the Department forward.” On another occasion, his Chief of Staff Carlos Lopez said “Stephen was a good guy, who did a lot of good things for the Cranston Police Department.” Winquist at one point seriously contemplated tendering his resignation, a move that would have raised eyebrows both within the Rhode Island police confraternity and the general public. Over a series of meetings, including one on a scheduled vacation day, Fung continued to refuse to recuse himself of the situation and saw things in terms of palace intrigue instead of administration. Winquist furthermore insisted that returning Antonucci to duty would kill morale in the Department that was only beginning to be repaired, but Fung remained belligerent. The report includes Winquist’s personal statement of events since becoming Chief, which ends with the following:
I continue to believe the best course is for the case to be adjudicated through the LEOBOR [police union adjudication process] hearing committee and allow the LEOBOR committee to either sustain the recommendation of termination, instill a punishment they determined fair and appropriate or dismiss the case if it is determined to have no merit. Attorney Ragosta advised me as well as Mayor Fung that the investigation was strong and the evidence supported the pending charges.