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NBC 10 I-Team: Cranston fire officials dispute claim of attack attempt on assistant chief

Cranston Fire Lt. Scott Bergantino, left, updated his lawsuit against the city  and Deputy Fire Chief Paul Valletta Jr., right, to allege that Valletta tried to attack an assistant fire chief in February. (WJAR) 

Two Cranston fire officials told the NBC 10 I-Team they dispute new allegations added to the civil lawsuit against the city of Cranston, its firefighters' union, and union boss Paul Valletta.

The lawsuit filed by Lt. Scott Bergantino calls into question Valletta’s competency and behavior in leading the fire department and the union. It claims that in February, with scrutiny already on Valletta following his assault arrest in September, he tried to attack and hit another firefighter.

Court papers written by attorney Chip Muller said Valletta met with Cranston firefighters’ command staff, including Chief Bill McKenna and Assistant Chief Bernard Patenaude. The amended lawsuit claims Patenaude told Valletta he made a "serious mistake" at a Jan. 29 fire where 20 firefighters were hurt by chemical exposure. The account alleges, "Mr. Valletta lurched across the conference room table they were sitting around and tried to attack and hit Assistant Chief Patenaude." The lawsuit goes on to say other men had to hold Valletta back.

The NBC 10 I-Team spoke to both Patenaude and McKenna on the phone. Patenaude denied saying he told Valletta he made a serious mistake. Both Patenaude and McKenna deny Valletta tried to attack anyone, but said the conversation over the treatment of injured firefighters got heated and voices were raised. “We were disagreeing,” said Patenaude.

This latest incident comes just two months after Bergantino originally filed his lawsuit and five months since Valletta was arrested and charged with assault.

On Sept. 9, 2017, at the city’s Station 6, Bergantino told Rhode Island State Police that a verbal argument with deputy chief and firefighter union president Valletta turned physical. Bergantino claimed Valletta slammed him against a whiteboard, punched him in the head twice, then pushed him over a recliner onto the floor, slamming his head, according to court filings. Valletta was charged with assault, but later acquitted of that charge during a one day trial in December. However, he was found guilty of disorderly conduct. Judge Elaine Bucci cited inconsistencies in witness testimony as the reason for the assault charge to be dropped.

Bergantino’s suit includes another accusation. The case alleges Daniel Parillo, Cranston's director of personnel, and Dean Brockway, a member of the firefighter's union executive board (IAFF Local 1363), encouraged a witness to September's alleged assault to "change his statement to police to make defendant Valletta and the city of Cranston look less culpable." While the assault case played out, and both Valletta and Bergantino were on administrative leave, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung’s director of personnel, Parillo, investigated the incident internally. According to the lawsuit, Parillo conducted meetings with more than 20 firefighters. Some were witnesses to the alleged assault, some were not, said the complaint. Bergantino claims the city's personnel director and the union rep went too far with the unnamed witness.

The lawsuit that was filed against the city of Cranston, Firefighters Local 1363, and Valletta, also accuses the city and officials of negligent training, assault, breach of duty of fair representation, and negligence.

In essence, Bergantino claims the city should know or should have known that Valletta’s temper would be a problem. The case cites other examples of temper tantrums with retirees or current firefighters, but also highlights a 2004 public outburst by the union boss against then Mayor Steve Laffey. Valletta pleaded not guilty and the charge was dismissed.

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