Investigation finds allegations from two officers ‘unfounded’
Investigation finds allegations from two officers ‘unfounded’
NORTH PROVIDENCE – An independent investigation by an outside attorney finds allegations by two female police officers against others in the North Providence Police Department to be “unfounded.”
But it finds plenty of “offensive” behavior, including crude comments and other actions leading to low morale in the department.
Attorney Marc DeSisto, in a 75-page investigative report completed March 6 and released to the media on Monday, dismissed nearly all allegations from Lt. Diana Perez and Sgt. Lisa Andrews over sexual harassment, discrimination, and department policies and practices.
Read DeSisto's report here.
Lt. Perez’s complaint alleges violations of the NPPD harassment in the workplace policy and raises allegations of gender discrimination, retaliation and general mismanagement.
Sgt. Lisa Andrews raises issues of sexual harassment, discrimination, and questions the process of the investigation into the allegations raised by Perez.
“Several episodes involve behavior akin to general teasing, offhand comments, or general vulgarity,” states the report, but were “not sufficiently offensive or severe to evidence a hostile work environment.”
At one point in his findings, DeSisto deems complaints from Perez “petty slights and minor annoyances” associated with a workplace.
Mayor Charles Lombardi said the report found what he anticipated it would, that the charges against Police Chief Pelagio and others weren’t substantiated. He said he’s now hopeful that the town will be “completely vindicated in U.S. Superior Court” in an ongoing lawsuit from Perez.
“Interoffice banter is OK or thought to be funny at times, when we’re all getting along, until someone either doesn’t like you anymore or is trying to protect themselves for whatever reason,” he said. “So let’s throw everything at the wall and hope something will stick to justify their agenda.
“I do not condone this type of behavior,” he added.
Lombardi emphasized that he was the one who ordered the investigation by DeSisto.
Edward Roy, attorney for Perez, said that the release of the report to the media on Monday “perfectly illustrates” the ongoing leadership problems in the town and department. He said he put in a request for the report months ago, but it was sent first to the media.
“I’m not in a position to comment on it because I haven’t seen it,” he said.
Roy said he believes a federal court will apply a different standard than an attorney on the town’s motion to dismiss Perez’s case on April 4.
“We think there’s enough here for the case to go forward,” he said.
Dennis Stone, president of the local police union, said he's concerned about Lombardi's public comment that he was "relieved" that the report found no evidence of wrongdoing.
"That report most certainly showed wrong doing, and it started with the chief," he said. "When you read it in its entirety you'll see some very disturbing issues and points made. To call the things that he said directly to and in front of a female subordinate as 'banter' is just not right."
Joe Penza, attorney for Pelagio, said that the report speaks for itself in finding charges unfounded. The report “came to the right conclusion” in finding that all sides are responsible for the low morale in the department, said Penza.
“I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone,” he said. “It’s something that has to be worked out, and I’m sure it will be.”
According to the report from DeSisto, an incident involving a toy rat seen in Deputy Chief Charles Davey’s car is “the quintessential example of the morale problem in the NPPD.” Perez saw the placement of the rat in Davey’s car as retaliatory, but DeSisto disagreed after interviewing everyone involved.
Everyone interviewed as part of DeSisto’s investigation said that low morale is a problem in the police department, but they disagreed on who is ultimately responsible.
“The source of what appears to be a longstanding problem must be identified before it critically impacts the mission of the NPPD,” states the report. “We find that both administration and rank and file are responsible for the morale problem, but we are unable to assign a percentage of blame to either side.”
A number of employees, including Pelagio’s secretary Julie Zanni, blamed the chief for the low morale. According to the report, she said it’s “the way he talks to people…the way he treats people. (He) doesn’t forget a thing.”
The report also finds fault with Pelagio for his statements that he would “run the NPPD into the ground,” saying they depleted morale even further. The chief told investigators that he was speaking out of frustration with the police union.
Penza said Pelagio admitted to making the statement on multiple occasions, but the attorney noted that the context of it was that he wasn’t going to cave to union pressure and wouldn’t “hand over the department” to the union.
“If we all knew we were going to be quoted some day in a newspaper or a report, we would probably use different words,” he said. “He’s certainly not running it into the ground.”
Penza speculated that some officers may not be happy with Pelagio for running the department like a “paramilitary organization.”
The bottom line, said Lombardi, is that “the chief is the chief, whether you like him or hate him.” The union’s ambition is to replace Pelagio, he said, and Stone continues to file “petty grievances” against the chief.
Lombardi noted that the report finds morale was low under previous chiefs. He said that shows him that “most of the problem” should be blamed on the police union leadership. That said, he’s “not happy” with some of Pelagio’s behavior and expects better in the future.
“I don’t condone those type of statements, but I also don’t think it’s a reason for termination,” said Lombardi. “I agree he hasn’t been perfect, but if you had to work under those conditions, with the contamination present, it’s easy for anyone to make a statement through frustration.”
Stone said he agrees with the mayor about not condoning the behavior.
"But the problem is he did condone it. He knew about the chief's behavior and comments over a year ago and it's just unfolding now," he said. "Meanwhile we still have people out of work on stress and people reassigned from the police station and away from the chief. How is this a healthy work environment? He needs to repair the damage in this department and do what he needs to bring the morale back up."
The report states that another possible contributor to the low morale was “inconsistent treatment of police officers,” particularly a decision by Lombardi not to pursue charges against Pelagio after a confrontation between Pelagio and Stone. An internal investigation found Pelagio also at fault, but only Stone was punished.