Missed deadline, missed opportunity
Everything unraveled in 2005. That was the spring when Detective James Allen was killed on the job, shot by a suspect he was interrogating at police headquarters.
For weeks after witnessing the aftermath, the event haunted Petrella. (Former FOP president Paniccia says that Petrella called every person in the department after the incident — including Esserman — wanting to check in and make sure that they were okay.)
That was the spring when Petrella’s estranged wife took out a restraining order against him, accusing him of substance abuse, and filed for divorce. (She would later admit in court that the allegations were a false attempt to take custody of their children. The two subsequently reconciled.)
It was the time when Petrella was suspended — for more than a month — for refusing to take a departmental drug test. (According to Petrella, he refused because the union told him the department had no grounds to demand the test. The union declined comment, citing pending litigation.) During that time period, the officer took an independent drug test. The test, as well as nine subsequent ones in the following months (the results of which he showed to the Phoenix) came up clean.
And then, that June, Petrella was served with a letter notifying him that he was being brought up on eight departmental violations and being recommended for termination.
The generally interrelated charges — based on the officer’s failure to notify his supervisor of an “unusual situation,” concerns that he had attempted to cover for Lough during the mini-bike episode, and charges that he had tried to sway the related grand jury — all stemmed from the 2003 incident. “It seemed like a joke,” he says. (Given legal and confidentiality concerns, the Providence Police Department declined to discuss the specifics of Petrella’s case.)
Petrella had one chance to contest the charges and save his job: an officer’s Bill of Rights hearing, which Rhode Island law guarantees to any officer facing dismissal.
But the veteran cop never received one. To ensure a hearing, a series of paperwork must be submitted to the department’s administration within a certain timeframe. According to the date of the letter union vice president John Carnevale eventually filed to notify the department who would represent Petrella in his Bill of Rights hearing, the paperwork was submitted six days late. At that point, Petrella had already been terminated. (Carnevale declined comment for this story.)
Petrella appealed to Superior Court, but was denied. Justice Joseph Rodgers ruled that the time limits were stringent, and that it was ultimately the former officer’s responsibility to file for a hearing — regardless of to whom he may have entrusted the responsibility.
Petrella disagrees. “We pay union dues because the union’s supposed to represent us,” he says, “and they just dropped the ball.”
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