Cranston firefighter files federal suit after firehouse altercation

Paul Valletta was arrested due to an incident that happened on Sept. 9.

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – A Cranston firefighter who accused a deputy chief of assaulting him has filed a federal lawsuit against the chief, the city of Cranston, and the fire union.

As first reported by Target 12, Lieutenant Scott Bergantino filed the suit Friday, alleging assault, poor training, breach of duty, and negligence.

Bergantino claimed that Deputy Chief Paul Valletta, who is also the President of Local 1363, attacked him in a firehouse dispute on Sept. 9. In the court filing, Bergantino said that the incident started when he refused to have his crew of firefighters participate in a “Fill the Boot” fundraiser for muscular dystrophy, which is organized by the fire union. Bergantino said that he “believed that it was in bad taste for firefighters to ask citizens for money as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida – just days after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes.” He was also concerned about a recently-passed city ordinance prohibiting panhandling.

His decision didn’t go over well with the union, and Bergantino claimed Valletta angrily called him to demand that Bergantino and his crew participate. Valletta later came to the fire station to confront Bergantino and an argument ensued, during which Bergantino complained about not receiving overtime and asked Valletta who he should file a union grievance with about it. Valletta, the union president, allegedly laughed off the question.

The argument continued and Valletta allegedly punched Bergantino twice, slammed him against a whiteboard, and then pushed him over a chair to the floor. Bergantino said he subsequently went to the hospital for treatment of injuries that included a concussion.

Valletta was criminally charged with the assault; after a bench trial earlier this month, Judge Elaine Bucci acquitted Valletta of assault but convicted him of disorderly conduct. The conviction was filed, meaning that if Valletta stays out of legal trouble for a year, it will be expunged.

Valletta had been placed on leave after the incident but returned to work in October.

In the suit filed Friday, Bergantino accused the city of knowing that Valletta had a “violent temper” and failing to implement a policy or training program for dealing with stress and anger. Bergantino pointed to a 2004 confrontation between Valletta and then-mayor Steve Laffey as evidence.

Bergantino also charged that the city and union failed to properly represent him, and other firefighters who were interviewed as witnesses, because Valletta is the union president, and claimed that city Personnel Director Daniel Parrillo encouraged a witness to the assault to change his story “to be more favorable to the city of Cranston, more favorable to defendant Valletta, and less favorable to Mr. Bergantino.”

Bergantino also asked for compensation for the concussion he suffered.

A spokesman for the city of Cranston declined to comment Saturday.