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NBC 10 I-Team: Investigators say allegations against North Providence police unfounded

Lt. Diana Perez, the highest ranking woman in North Providence Police history, filed a complaint against the town and acting police chief Christopher Pelagio for creating, according to a report, a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment, poor management, and negatively affecting morale. (WJAR)

On Monday, Mayor Charles Lombardi made public an investigative report into allegations lodged against the North Providence Police Department by two female officer, which include: sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation, and mismanagement by the chief of police.

The report, penned by attorneys Marc DeSisto and Patrick Cunningham, find the totality of the complaints to be “unfounded,” but did note they were offensive.

Lt. Diana Perez, the highest ranking woman in North Providence Police history, filed a complaint against the town and acting police chief Christopher Pelagio for creating, according to the report, a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment, poor management, and negatively affecting morale.

One such complaint said the chief sang the lyrics to the Sir Mix-A-Lot song, “Baby Got Back” -- “I like big butts and I cannot lie” -- in Perez’s presence. Perez alleged it referred to her buttocks.

Pelagio denied making the comment toward Perez and said it referred to a movie his children were watching called, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip."

Perez’ allegations are also part of a federal lawsuit she filed against the town, Lombardi, Pelagio, and Deputy Chief Charles Davey. Sgt. Lisa Andrews had filed a second compliant with Lombardi for not placing Pelagio and another supervisor on administrative leave for the Perez complaint.

Monday afternoon, Perez sat in the front row just feet from Lombardi during a press conference. The mayor said he was relieved with the findings of the report.

“Interoffice banter is OK or thought to be funny, at times, when we are all getting along until someone either does not like you anymore or is trying to protect themselves for whatever reason. So let’s throw everything at the wall and hope that something will stick to justify their agenda. I do not condone this type of behavior,” said the mayor.

Perez was emotional at times, while listening the Lombardi. Her attorney didn’t mince his words afterward.

“The fact that the mayor couldn't even look Diana in the face, tells you everything you need to know about this mayor,” said attorney Alberto Aponte Cardona.

Once the complaint got around -- Perez thought a toy rat left on the hood of a cruiser was meant for her -- a threat to stop talking.

In the 74-page report, DeSisto interviewed 16 witnesses and determined while Perez heard offensive comments, the accusations didn’t rise to level of sexual harassment.

DeSisto did note that morale is low at the police department and even used that toy rat to describe how bad thing are. The rat wasn't intended for Perez, as she thought. Two other officers, including Davey, thought it was meant for them, said investigators.

Problems at the North Providence police have been brewing for some time.

Last summer, the NBC 10 I-Team reported on a shouting match between the chief and the head of the union, Lt. Dennis Stone. Stone was eventually suspended for 20 days.

The mayor blamed low morale on the union Monday, and the union blames morale on the mayor and police chief, according to the report. Lombardi said the DeSisto finding cost taxpayers approximately $35,000 to $40,000.

As for Perez, she’s been out on paid stress leave since May 2016.

“I'd love her to come back to work. She did a good job,” added the mayor.

Perez’s attorney said his client’s legal action in federal court marches on.

“He (Lombardi) has a daughter. I hope nobody refers to his daughter’s rear in any context. It’s just appalling,” said Cardona.

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