Chief of Police Col. Marco Palombo Jr. has been relieved of his duties and placed on paid administrative leave, Mayor Allan Fung announced in a Friday press conference, with a Rhode Island State Police captain to temporarily take command of the Cranston Police Department’s operations as a probe into allegations of targeted, retaliatory ticketing continues.
“Now is the time to rise above the fray and put rumors and allegations to rest and complete an independent, nonbiased investigation, but more importantly, restore confidence in the city of Cranston, in city government, and in our police department,” said Fung, standing alongside State Police Col. Stephen O’Donnell before members of the media in his office at City Hall.
Fung said he was compelled “to take measures I felt necessary due to the allegations, the additional allegations, that I have just recently learned.”
He specifically referenced allegations made in two new anonymous letters, which came in addition to a pair of earlier anonymous letters purportedly written by members of the police department. He declined to provide any additional details regarding the letters or their contents.
Citing “all that has transpired” both within the last 48 hours and since the ticketing allegations first arose, Fung said he requested that state police investigate the matter - a development that had been announced Thursday - and additionally went “one step further” is seeking temporary, outside leadership for the department.
“[I] asked the colonel to assign temporarily an acting colonel to oversee the day-to-day operations of the department and to also review other personnel matters in the department,” said Fung, adding that he has sought an “objective assessment of our operations and a review of any pending matters within the department so that I … and more importantly the city of Cranston can move forward in an expeditious and yet diligent manner.”
O’Donnell said the temporary colonel will be State Police Capt. Kevin Barry, a 19-year veteran who has served in a variety of capacities, from patrol to assignments with intelligence, narcotics and terrorism units. O’Donnell said precedent exists for the temporary appointment, with similar action having been previously taken in North Providence, Woonsocket and other communities.
The investigation itself will be led by State Police Capt. Benjamin Barney, with assistance from other state law enforcement personnel. Barney is head of professional standards for the state police.
The alleged ticketing in question took place during the two-day period following a November meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee at which a proposed new contract with the city’s police union was rejected.
Councilmen Steven Stycos and Paul Archetto - who represent wards 1 and 3, respectively - were among the four council members to vote against the pact, and allege that their neighborhoods were mass-ticketed in retaliation. Figures provided by Stycos appear to support the claims.
In the wake of the allegations becoming public, Fung had announced the hiring of a New Jersey-based investigator to review the Cranston Police Department’s internal review of the matter. Stycos and Archetto had subsequently brought forward a resolution calling for the involvement of State Police, although Fung’s recent actions have essentially rendered both the outside hiring and the resolution moot.
Fung on Friday did voice support for the city’s police, referencing his experience dealing with the department as both a prosecutor and as mayor.
“We have a good police department,” he said. “They handle themselves in a professional manner.”
The mayor also sought to reassure the public that his ongoing campaign for governor plays no role in his handling of the ticketing allegations.
“It’s not about politics,” he said. “It is about the people of the city of Cranston.”
Fung on Thursday had announced that those in wards 1 and 3 who received tickets during the timeframe in question would have the violation rescinded and a warning issued in its place.