BURRILLVILLE – A former Nasonville firefighter, who has been on paid leave from the district for years following an injury on duty, filed a lawsuit this month against a neighboring department, saying that district and one of its firefighters are negligent for his injury.
The suit is just the latest legal action by a convicted felon with a history of filing claims against fire departments across the state.
Richard Hartley, a full-time Nasonville firefighter and union vice president before the district became inactive, was one of 44 people tried and convicted as a member of the infamous “Golden Nugget Gang,” a group of burglars involved in organized crime throughout the state in the mid 1990s. The crew reportedly stole more than $10 million in jewelry and other merchandise that was laundered at The Golden Nugget pawn shop in Olneyville.
Hartley himself pleaded guilty to dozens of felony charges of racketeering, conspiracy, attempted breaking and entering, breaking and entering and other crimes and was sentenced to 10 years in the ACI.
In a previous conviction in February 1991, a Superior Court jury found Hartley guilty of a robbery in Cranston, and he was sentenced to 15 years in the Adult Correctional Institutions — 8 years to serve and 7 years suspended.
In 2005, Hartley applied for his EMT license with the Department of Health and was placed on a seven year probation by the Division of Emergency Medical Services. A consent order issued on the application that year notes that, “information obtained in conjunction with the application,” showed that on assorted dates from 1986 through 1996, Hartley, “was convicted of various crimes in violation of state law to include conspiracy, RICO, breaking and entering and receiving stolen goods.”
The probation ended in 2013, and Hartley became a licensed emergency medical technician.
In 2014, Hartley filed a suit against the town of Central Falls, alleging that he was a victim of age discrimination when the Central Falls Fire Department did not hire him for a job. The complaint, featured in the Providence Journal, noted that Hartley applied for the job in 2012, at the age of 44.
Burrillville Professional Firefighters became a certified union, governed by the state’s Firefighters Arbitration Act, in April of 2014.
In September of 2014, Hartley was among a group of firefighters who filed a District Court suit against the Nasonville Fire District for unpaid overtime.
According to the village fire district’s meeting minutes, Hartley and Don Pariseau informed the elected members of the Nasonville Fire Commission that they were president and vice president of the union respectively in December of 2016.
By that time, Hartley had already reportedly been injured on duty. For the past two years, he’s received payment through the department’s insurance policy, but coverage is set to run out in 2021, and the claim, along with another injury claim filed by Pariseau, would be paid through the district budget.
State law dictates if a union employee is incapacitated from injuries received on duty, the district is responsible for 100 percent of their salary and benefits: an obligation that could last for decades if the firefighter remains disabled.
The expense was a deciding factor when taxpayers in the village first began talk of dissolving the district earlier this year.
At the time, Hartley told NRI NOW that he tore a bicep on a rescue call and that his injury occurred due to understaffing. He said he had only applied for alternate jobs as a firefighter before being placed on leave by the chief, and that he was still receiving care for the injury.
But minutes from a Coventry Fire District meeting filed with the Rhode Island Secretary of State last year imply that Hartley remained active during his leave from Nasonville.
Hartley applied for a job with the CFD, and then filed a claim with that department’s insurance.
“Unbeknownst to anyone in the Coventry Fire District, Mr. Hartley goes around to fire departments and applies for a position, and tricks them into violating a brand new section of RI General Law,” the minutes note. “This law states that you cannot ask for a criminal record at the application stage of the hiring process.”
In the minutes, Coventry Fire District Solicitor Arthur Reed tells board members that Hartley filed such complaints against eight departments in total. In Coventry, he received a settlement of $37,500 after the department’s attorney advised district board members that the figure was less than it would cost to litigate that matter.
“Hartley had asked that this case be kept confidential. Solicitor Reed rejected this request, noting that he wanted every department in the state to know what Hartley was up to,” the minutes state.
In the latest complaint against OMFD, Hartley states that he received “severe and permanent injuries,” when Oakland Mapleville firefighter Robert Casale dropped a stretcher they were carrying during a call in March of 2016.
Stating that Casale was “negligent” in carrying the patient, the case says OMFD is responsible due to lack of training, supervision, monitoring and overall care of a staff member.
As a result, Hartley states he,”sustained harm and loss by way of medical expenses, severe and permanent injuries, lost wages, lost earning capacity and incurred pain and suffering, along with future expenses for medical and pain and suffering.”
He is being represented by North Providence-based attorney Chelsea Baittinger.
Editor’s note: NRI NOW was contacted by Richard Hartley after this story was published. While stating that most of the above article is true, he disputed certain facts, such as Attorney Reed’s statement that he has claims against eight different departments. Read a follow-up here.