PAWTUCKET — Citing what a difference a day makes, the city has filed an appeal in Superior Court of the decision of a police officers' disciplinary hearing committee that would allow convicted Pawtucket Police Officer Nichalas Laprade to keep his job.
The complaint, filed on Dec. 21, concerns the city's attempts to fire Laprade following his conviction in February of 2011 on a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure/disorderly conduct. The officer, hired in 2007, has been suspended with pay since his arrest in November of 2010.
On Dec. 14, a majority of the three-member Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights hearing committee that was convened to consider Laprade's disciplinary case found the officer “not guilty” of the charges against him.
The reason given was that the city failed to submit any evidence or testimony to support the allegations against Laprade.
The reason behind the reason centered around a missed deadline of one day in which the city was to have presented a witness list and other information to be offered as evidence at the hearing to the law enforcement officer.
The city's attorney, Vincent F. Ragosta, Jr., is arguing that the hearing committee's “not guilty” decision was affected by a procedural error and an “abuse of discretion” on the part of the hearing committee, its chairman and Presiding Judge Alice B. Gibney by denying the city's requests for deadline extensions.
In its suit, the city is asking the Superior Court to reverse or modify part or all of the denials of its petitions and motions made in the case, and/or reverse or modify the hearing committee's decision finding Laprade not guilty.
The appeal documents outline the series of events which led to Laprade's not guilty verdict and the basis for the city's complaint. In May of 2011, the Pawtucket Police Department had charged Laprade with misconduct, including his misdemeanor conviction, and sought his termination.
On June 23, 2011, three officers were selected for the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights hearing committee to consider Laprade's case. They were Providence Police Officer Richard Ramirez (Laprade's designee), Pawtucket Police Major Bruce Moreau (the city's designee), and Providence Police Sergeant Arthur J. Lee (as the neutral party). Lee was also selected as the chairperson of the hearing committee.
By agreement of all parties, the hearing committee scheduled its first convening for July 20, 2011. The law enforcement Bill of Rights requires that not less than 10 days prior to the hearing date, the charging law enforcement agency provide to the law enforcement officer a list of all witnesses to be called to testify at the hearing along with related documents to be offered as evidence at the hearing.
The appeal notes that if July 20, 2011 was the date of the first Bill of Rights hearing, the city was to disclose to Laprade its witness and evidence list on or before July 10, 2011—which was a Sunday.
However, the appeal further notes that Moreau and Ragosta, the city's counsel, had scheduling conflicts and the city requested on July 12, 2011 that hearing committee chairperson Lee defer convening the hearing until after July 20, 2011. The appeal states that Lee initially agreed to the request, but changed his mind after Laprade's attorney, Joseph Penza objected.
According to the appeal, Lee told Moreau that Penza had raised a “potential procedural error” and said that changing the hearing date would impact his argument. However, the initial hearing date remaining intact meant that the city could not present any witnesses or evidence.
On July 14, 2011, after Lee denied the city's request on the date change, Moreau wrote to Judge Gibney asking for an extension to commence the hearing. He wrote that Lee's refusal to grant a request for a short extension reflects “evident partiality in favor of the officer,” and that the net effect of this action “virtually insures that the city's case may die on purely procedural grounds.”
On July 18, 2011, Judge Gibney denied the city's petition for an extension. She did require that the parties agree to a later “hearing” start date, but mandated that the first convening date nevertheless be considered for the hearing committee's purposes as July 20, 2011.
The appeal states that while Judge Gibney was “gracious” in requiring that the parties agree to a later date, it maintains that the presiding justice abused her discretion and otherwise erred in her action to deny the city's request.
While the parties agreed that the hearing committee would reconvene on July 22, 2011, the city renewed its request to continue the hearing. The hearing committee denied the city's request—an action which the appeal maintains was an abuse of its discretion and an error.
At the next hearing on Sept. 8, 2011, the city challenged whether the convening of the hearing committee on July 22, 2011 was a “hearing” as defined by the law enforcement Bill of Rights.
Also at the Sept. 8 meeting, Laprade objected to the city's attempt to call a witness, citing the city's alleged failure to comply with the Bill of Rights' disclosure requirements.
At a hearing held on Sept. 13, 2011, the hearing committee determined that the July 22, 2011 meeting was a hearing for the law enforcement Bill of Right's purposes, and excluded the city's witnesses and evidence.
The appeal contends that the hearing committee erred in determining that the convening of the hearing committee on July 22, 2011 constituted a “hearing” and in excluding the city's witnesses and evidence.
The appeal also notes that on and following the Sept. 13, 2011 hearing, the city requested that the hearing committee take notice of Laprade's conviction, that it issue Laprade a subpoena compelling him to be present for questioning by the hearing committee and/or the city, and that the city exercise its power to subpoena other witnesses. However, on Nov. 18, 2011, the hearing committee denied these requests by the city—an action which the appeal maintains is an error and an abuse of its discretion.
The appeal also asserts that the hearing committee's decision on Dec. 14, 2011 finding Laprade not guilty was, “among other things, affected by error of law and characterized by an abuse of discretion.”