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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rhode Island Cops Arrested for Peddling Cocaine

Drug arrests latest black mark on RI police force
The Gouverneur Times by Eric Tucker - March 10, 2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — After three Providence police officers were arrested last week in a cocaine-peddling sting, Chief Dean Esserman called it a "hard day" for the department. The department has endured its share of hard days in recent years despite Esserman's vows in 2003 to reform the conduct of a department marred by a cheating scandal and other problems under the administration of ex-Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci. One officer faces a trial on charges of raping a woman at a police substation. Another was indicted last month for allegedly beating a man with a flashlight. And a federal judge lambasted the department for shoddy police work that forced prosecutors in 2007 to drop charges against a suspected drug dealer who was arrested in last week's bust. The latest arrests, involving a narcotics detective, a school resource officer, and a former driver for Mayor David Cicilline, have triggered a widening investigation in the narcotics unit and raised fresh questions about the police force in Rhode Island's capital. "There's no question that when you have groups of police officers involved with drug dealing, that's about as serious an image problem as a police department can have," said Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York police officer who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. City officials suspended the three without pay and called them "rogue" officers. Four additional officers were placed on desk duty last week. Cicilline proposed random drug testing of police officers, then backed off Wednesday and urged the department to develop its own policy. "All of us need to rebuild any trust that has been violated by an officer, whether working in a school, working in a neighborhood, working anywhere," Esserman said. The arrests have embarrassed the department so much so that Cianci, who was convicted in 2002 of running City Hall as a criminal enterprise, has rubbed it in on his radio talk show by playing snippets of Eric Clapton's version of "Cocaine."

Esserman, a Dartmouth College graduate, is a protege of former New York and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. He took office a year after former Police Chief Urbano Prignano testified under immunity at Cianci's corruption trial that he had helped officers on promotional exams by supplying cheat sheets. Since then, Esserman has taken credit for reducing crime and encouraging community policing. A day before the arrests, he testified in Washington before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his department's accomplishments. Cicilline also defended the department Wednesday as a national model. "I will do everything I can to protect the reputation and integrity of the great men and women who do this work every day," he said. Just last month, an officer pleaded not guilty to assault after he was caught on camera allegedly beating a suspect with a flashlight. Another could stand trial as soon as Monday on charges he raped a woman in a police substation three years ago. In 2007, police detective Scott Patridge told a federal judge he did not have notes from his investigation into a drug dealing suspect but then later said he found them in his attic just before the trial was to start. U.S. District Judge William Smith said the episode exposed practices that "threaten both the fundamental integrity of the investigations conducted by the Providence Police and, unavoidably, the public's faith in the department's competency." The botched case returned the suspect to the streets, where last week he was among six people arrested after a four-month investigation into a drug ring. Also apprehended were three officers — Patrolman Robert Hamlin; Sgt. Stephen Gonsalves, Cicilline's former driver; and Detective Joseph Colanduono, who served on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force. Authorities say Hamlin tipped his brother, an alleged drug dealer, to the narcotics detectives' identities. A state police affidavit recounts a recorded conversation purportedly between the sergeant and the detective that authorities say show the two men scheming to buy drugs from a dealer. A lawyer for Gonsalves, who has been released on personal recognizance, says his client appears to have had only a minor role. Colanduono's lawyer did not return calls seeking comment, and it was not clear if Hamlin had a lawyer. Both officers are being held without bail. State prosecutors plan to review all pending cases in which either of the officers is a witness. The public defender has asked his staff to make similar checks. O'Donnell, the John Jay professor, said dealers look to cultivate chummy relationships with police to help avoid arrest. If caught, they can snitch on officers who protected them and become valuable prosecution witnesses. "Corrupting the police is a core strategy of their enterprise," he said.

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