PAWTUCKET — In a written decision handed down on Wednesday, Pawtucket Police officer Nichalas Laprade, convicted earlier this year on a charge of indecent exposure during an off-duty driving incident, won the right to keep his job from a Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights hearing panel.
Yet, city officials say they will appeal the decision, which they are attributing to a procedural error in filing by another city police officer.
Laprade has been on paid suspension since his Nov. 9, 2010 arrest by Rhode Island State Police on a charge of indecent exposure. Two women accused the 29-year-old patrol officer of lewd behavior while he drove alongside their vehicle on Route 95 and Route 6 in Providence in the early morning hours. He was later convicted of the criminal misdemeanor charge and a District Court judge on Feb. 18, 2011 filed the case for one year.
According to city officials, Laprade appealed city administrative actions that were taken in the wake of the criminal conviction.
Because the conviction was for a misdemeanor, not a felony, city officials said the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights afforded Laprade the right to such a hearing. The hearing committee consisted of one police officer chosen by Laprade, another officer appointed by the city and a third chosen through a joint decision of these two officers.
Since his conviction last February, Laprade has continued to receive his full salary and benefits, city officials say.
Sources close to the matter said the procedural mistake concerned specific time limits that were required for providing the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights hearing committee with responses, witness lists and other documents related to Laprade's case.
According to several sources, the submission deadline for some pertinent documentation was missed by one day.
As such, city officials say they will appeal the hearing panel's decision that would allow Laprade to return to duty. “We're confident we have good legal grounds to take an appeal,” said Mayor Donald R. Grebien.
While citing legal restrictions in the Bill of Rights that prohibit commenting on any specific case, Grebien said, “Any conduct by any city police officer that is disrespectful of the badge they wear and the public they are sworn to serve and protect is simply unacceptable. Wherever conduct by a police officer or any other city servant falls short of what the public deserves and expects, we will address it at every level until any failure in the high level of service we require is rectified.”
Police Chief Paul King said he is conducting an internal investigation into an apparent procedural issue affecting a required filing in the case. “Once we are done, recommendations will follow and the chips will fall where they may. Any mistake, no matter how unintended, that compromises such a case must have appropriate consequences,” King said.
City Solicitor Frank Milos said the hearing panel's ruling on the procedural issue prevented the city from introducing witnesses and other evidence. He said the city's attorney in the matter, Vincent Ragosta, has been directed to file an appeal of the hearing committee's decision.
“We believe the hearing committee made an error,” Milos said. Milos added that the city believes the decision not to take judicial notice of a prior conviction is legally incorrect, particularly where the judgment of conviction in the District Court is indisputable.
In addition to his arrest on the indecent exposure charge in 2010, Laprade also faced an administrative inquiry after a passerby took video of him and another officer that allegedly showed them sleeping in their cruiser while on duty in August of 2010.
Laprade, who lives in Johnston, was hired as a city police officer on Dec. 3, 2007. His attorney, Christine McBurney, did not return a phone call seeking a comment about the matter.