PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A judge has ruled against an embattled Cranston police captain swept up in a parking ticket scandal, clearing the way for his disciplinary hearing to move forward.
In a decision released Wednesday, Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice Gibney ruled against Capt. Stephen Antonucci in his motion to dismiss seven departmental violations filed against him.
Last April, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung – who was running for governor at the time – called for Antonucci’s termination after a Rhode Island State Police investigation found he ordered a parking ticket blitz in the wards of two city councilmen who voted against a police union contract. At the time Antonucci was the union president. He has since been suspended with pay.
Antonucci has admitted to ordering an increase in ticketing in those wards but has insisted it was not retaliation, saying he did so at the request of Councilmen Steven Stycos and Paul Archetto, who were looking to enforce a city ordinance that prohibits overnight on-street parking.
Fung’s move to terminate Antonucci triggered a complicated state law called the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), which assembles a three-member panel made up of members of law enforcement to decide whether or not there is enough evidence to support disciplinary action against a police officer.
Antonucci filed a complaint in Superior Court seeking to dismiss the charges against him, arguing the state police – who were called in by Fung – conducted an investigation illegally. He also unsuccessfully argued the LEOBOR panel was improperly assembled because two of the three members are part of the state police.
By law one member of the panel is chosen by the officer being disciplined, another by the department and a third is supposed to be agreed to by both parties. If an agreement cannot be reached by the two parties, the presiding justice is to appoint the neutral party, which happened in this case.
Antonucci chose West Warwick police Lt. James Tiernan, the city chose state police Lt. Col. Todd Catlow, and Gibney chose state police Lt. Ann Assumpico.
There are now three options: the LEOBOR hearing can proceed, Antonucci can appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, or the city can reach a settlement agreement with Antonucci.
Sources tell Target 12 Fung and Antonucci were in talks to reach an agreement that would have brought the embattled captain back to the force.
Fung has declined to comment about questions regarding any talks, saying the LEOBOR law precludes him for speaking publicly about active cases.
In a statement reacting to Gibney’s decision, Fung said Cranston is moving forward with the LEOBOR hearing.
“Justice Gibney’s decision allows the disciplinary process to continue toward a hearing in accordance with the requirements of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) and we will move forward with this process,” Fung said in the statement. “Due to the nature of the matter and the confidentiality restrictions imposed by the LEOBOR, I am unable to comment on any specifics at this time.”
Vincent Ragosta, the attorney hired by the Fung administration, said Cranston officials “are gratified by the careful analysis and decision by Presiding Justice Gibney.”
The LEOBOR process can be costly to municipalities. In November Target 12 compiled data from police departments statewide and found taxpayers have spent more than $1.5 million on legal fees and pay for officers who have been suspended. The figure does not include overtime pay to cover the officers’ vacant shifts.