I-Team: Police officers allege abuse of power by former chief

Capt. Todd Patalano of the Cranston Police Department has been with the force for 18 years.

He has 17 commendations along with one big stain.

There's a gap in time when Patalano was told to sit at home for 20 months and get his nearly $100,000 a year salary.

"Almost two years! How egregious is that to the taxpayers of the city?" said Patalano's attorney Joe Penza.

Patalano let Penza discuss the details of his case, however, the I-Team sat down with the police captain for an exclusive interview. Patalano said his time off the job took its toll both mentally and physically.

"When you have to worry about the people you work with setting you up, that's a problem," said Patalano, who is married with three sons.

"It was an attempt by a police administration to take out, if I can use those words, somebody they saw as a threat," added Penza.

Patalano was put on paid administrative leave in April 2012 by former chief Marco Palumbo. The 11 disciplinary charges against him had to do with handling civilian complaints, strange charges for the internal affairs investigator.

The charges never went anywhere.

A Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights hearing met 14 times and then fell apart. Patalano lingered at home on the clock.

Patalano's legal bills piled up and so did the city's.

Between his $99,368 salary, $108,000 in personal legal fees, and $175,000 the city has paid to attorney Daniel Kinder to prosecute his case, the tab totals $453,000 for one police captain's fight to stay employed.

"It's the most egregious abuse of police power I've ever seen in 42 years of representing police officers in this state," Penza said.

In May 2012, Penza went right to the top for answers.

He met with city officials and Mayor Allan Fung and said he presented supporting evidence for Patalano and damning evidence against the chief, including taped recordings that would support his client's case to go back to work.

"We provided them with the documents they needed. We had recordings, we provided them with transcripts and let them listen to those recordings and said, 'This has got to stop. This has got to stop and let's end it now,'" Penza said.

Penza said Fung listened to the tapes and met with him again on four separate occasions.

It took the city another 19 months to put Patalano back to work on Jan. 8, 2014.

The I-Team has learned Patalano wasn't the only one in the department put on paid administrative leave.

Capt. Jerry Carnevale was out six months on paid administrative leave for vague reasons. He told the I-Team he was "targeted" and that the former police administration "played games."

Secretary Lydia Wilson, a 40-year veteran of the city, was escorted out the door on Nov. 10, 2011 and told to stay home for six months on paid administrative leave.

All told, the lost salaries and costs totaled more than $523,000 -- much of it taxpayer dollars for abled bodied employees to stay home.

"If I had it my way, I would have been back to work. There never would have been a penny spent," said Patalano, who is glad to be back on the job, and now assigned to the training academy.

Palumbo retired in March amid a state police investigation into the department's handling of an overnight ticket blitz in November.

Wilson is back to work in the city for the Department of Public Works. She told the I-Team, "it was disgusting that this was allowed to happen."

Carnevale is also back on the job, as commander of the nighttime patrol division.

"The change in leadership over the last four months has dramatically initiated an increase in morale for the men and women of the Cranston Police Department," Carnevale said.

The Rhode Island State Police has taken over the duties of running the Cranston Police Department.

State police told NBC 10 on Monday that Patalano has been cleared of any charges of wrongdoing.

Palumbo said he could not discuss personnel matters because he may be required to testify before future Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights hearings.

Fung said in a statement that he allows his directors to run the day-to-day operations of the various city departments and that he doesn't micro-manage them.

He said various personnel issues existed under Palumbo and when he asked state police to take over the police department, he asked that they take an objective look at the issues.

Fung said about Patalano's case that, "Acting Colonel Barry and an independent labor attorney reviewed the situation and reached the conclusion that the charges brought against him should be dismissed.

"As far as any other issues of purported inappropriate conduct by the former chief that have been alleged by these three other individuals within the department, we have insufficient information about their accusations. Any such claims and their pursuit of damages, if any, are subject to their proof and we strongly deny them at this time."