Council approves settlement of suit against NSPD alleging discrimination over sexual orientation

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NORTH SMITHFIELD — While the terms of the agreement have not yet been made public, NRI NOW has learned that the Town Council has approved the settlement of a long-standing lawsuit against members of the North Smithfield Police Department alleging employment discrimination over sexual orientation.

The suit, filed in 2013 by former police dispatcher Dominic Pratt, alleged violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and the Fair Employment Practices Act listing several members of the department, including former Chief Steven Reynolds, individually.

“Shortly after February, 2010 and up until the plaintiff’s firing in November, 2010, (the) plaintiff was subject to severe and pervasive harassment and discrimination based upon the perception that he was gay,” the suit notes.

According to documents submitted by Pratt’s attorney, Carly Beauvais Iafrate of Providence, the plaintiff was first hired by the NSPD as a part-time dispatcher in August of 2009. Shortly after he was hired, a second, full-time dispatcher, Mark Morris, moved in with Pratt, and the pair bought two chihuahuas in February of 2010.

The complaint states that Lt. Gregory Landry and then Officer Gregory Chito would constantly ask Pratt about Morris’s sexual orientation, and say that they thought he was gay. It states that Pratt was subject to constant name calling and gay-related comments during his time at the department, noting that at one point, Reynolds referred to Morris as the plaintiff’s partner.

It also states that department members would threaten and harass Pratt with their tasers – stunning him, “at least six times,” and chasing him around threatening to do so more than a hundred times – sometimes placing it against his skin when it was not activated.

“These incidents involved them getting very physical with (the) plaintiff because he struggled not to get hurt,” the complaint notes.

The suit also alleges that Jared Salinaro, who was either a sergeant or lieutenant at the time, would harass Pratt with his K-9, getting “Vasko,” to jump on and nip at him. Salerno, who has not worked for the department since 2013, the year the suit was filed, is also accused of threatening Pratt with pepper spray, and at points, spraying it at his lower body and into his car window.

“On a number of occasions, defendant Salinaro threatened (the) plaintiff with physical harm if he told anyone about the harassment,” the suit states.

Landry is accused of stealing the plaintiff’s cell phone on several occasions and sending texts to Morris with messages such as, “I love you.”

The suit notes that in November of 2012, both dispatchers were suspended.

Pratt has been seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the case, noting that the discriminatory conduct was open and well-known.

In October of 2012, both Pratt and Morris were suspended because of the way they handled a call, and that November, Pratt was reportedly fired because of an off-duty incident that took place in Massachusetts.

The “plaintiff believes he was disciplined and fired not because of the reasons articulated, but because he was perceived as being gay,” notes the complaint.

Attorney Marc DeSisto denied the allegations on behalf of the town, also citing, in part, qualified immunity and the public duty doctrine.

State records show that a claim of jury trial was filed in the case in 2014, but it sat for four years before an entry of appearance in 2018. Last August, a judge granted a motion to assign the suit for trial.

A “stipulation to enter,” was filed in June, an indication that the opposing parties had reached an agreement out of court. The parties are due back in court in August, likely to officially file the settlement approved by councilors in closed session on Tuesday, June 27.

Editor’s note: An original version of this article stated that Marc DeSisto represented the plaintiff, when he is one of the attornies defending the case. We apologize for the error.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Just wanted to point out the fabulous job the NS police are doing. I drove by the NS football field last night as saw an number of vehicles parked on the street right under the no parking signs with zero tickets. Why don’t the police ticket vehicles for not obeying the law. I guess the police get to make a decision on what laws they are going to enforce. Maybe next time a NS police officer stops someone for speeding or going through a red light they should just I think not obeying the law in NS is ok.

  2. CO and JB these are the employees you think deserve a Taj Mahal police station. The department is an embarrassment. From my personal observations the police department fails to respect the citizens of North Smithfield and feel they are above the law.

  3. I cannot imagine what they went through at work. Pathetic also is the fact it sat for so long, and justice was delayed. Who cares if someone is gay, straight, whatever. It is their personal right. Respect them. And by police no less. Who are supposed to maintain the law, respect, and rights afforded everyone. Very obvious that the dispatchers were let go for what was perceived nonsense, by ignorant co-workers, and so glad they finally have a settlement. What happened to just being nice and respectful, takes lots of effort to be hateful if you think about it. How about a public apology…?

  4. All the officers named in the suit, some still currently embarrassing, i mean serving the town should be investigated criminally by the AG’s office. If these were any normal private employees ypu can bet the officers named here would lock them up.

    How are we to believe those that may “appear gay” will be treated fairly by Landry and Chito, and NSPD just posted pictures of Landry reading to children? Are these the officers we want representing our town in the public.

    Onto the pensions, the lawsuit named numerous current and former officers, they should lose their pensions and post employment benefits for their actions and the fact their attorney wants t9 hide behind LEOBOR, is the reason so many want to repeal it, this wanst an error on an officers part, this was abuse with the former chief turning a blind eye.

  5. Over a decade has passed and this is still not resolved? Just like my 11/1/2 year ordeal where the police were found to hve violated my civil rights. All under Reynolds. None of this comes as a surprise. There were multiple civil acttions against the town while Reynolds was chief. Im hope we have turned a page….

    So, should we expect the Administrator’s charges of sexual harassment to reach the court some time around 2033?

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