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Johnston v. International Brotherhood of Police Officers

Superior Court of Rhode Island

February 20, 2017


         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: William J. Conley, Jr., Esq.

          For Defendant: Gary T. Gentile, Esq.


          LICHT, J.

         Before the Court are the Town of Johnston's (Johnston) Motions to Stay Implementation of and to Vacate an Arbitration Award and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 307's (IBOP) Cross-Motion to confirm the same award. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 28-9-14.

         I Facts and Travel

         The award concerns a disciplinary action taken against a Johnston police officer. Award 4. The arbitrator, AAA Arbitrator Beth Anne Wolfson, Esq. (Arbitrator), found the following facts. Id.; Def.'s Ex. E.

         The Arbitrator derived jurisdiction and based her award on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that governs the parties' relationship from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017. Id.; Miscellaneous Pet. ¶ 2; Award 4.

         On the morning of July 1, 2015, Patrolman Adam Catamero (Officer Catamero) was working an overtime shift for the Johnston Accident Reduction Enforcement (JARE) program, designed to enforce traffic laws in the Town of Johnston. Award 4-5. During this overtime shift, Officer Catamero witnessed Ronald Fraraccio (Fraraccio) speeding in a gray Honda at 53 MPH in a 35 MPH speed limit zone. Award 5. Fraraccio owns R & F Auto; at the time of the infraction, he was test driving a customer's vehicle. Id. Officer Catamero, driving an unmarked police vehicle, attempted to perform a motor vehicle stop. Id. He was only able to pull Fraraccio over when he pulled into the parking lot of R & F Auto. Id.

         When Fraraccio pulled into R & F Auto, he exited his car. Id. at 6. Officer Catamero asked Fraraccio to return to the vehicle. Id. When Fraraccio did so, Officer Catamero began to inquire about the circumstances of Fraraccio's infractions. Id. Officer Catamero informed Fraraccio that he had pulled him over for speeding and driving with tinted windows, a civil offense in Johnston. Id. Officer Catamero asked for Fraraccio's license and registration. Id. Fraraccio, who does not carry his license while working, did not have it. Id. However, Fraraccio did provide the registration of the vehicle. Id.

         During the vehicle stop, Lisa Roberti (Roberti), R & F Auto's Office Manager, came outside to determine what was happening in the parking lot. Id. She asked to speak with Fraraccio, but Officer Catamero told her to "go back inside." Id. at 6-7. Roberti did not. Id. Officer Catamero ordered her back inside twice more, and both times Roberti ignored his orders. Id. Finally, Officer Catamero told her to "get back inside, or I'll make it worse for him." Id. at 7. Roberti returned to the office telling Officer Catamero that he was "not being very nice." Id.

         Another witness, Luigi Bottella (Botella), a customer of R & F Auto, testified that he heard the entire exchange among Roberti, Fraraccio, and Officer Catamero. Id. He did not hear Roberti do anything to interfere with Officer Catamero's investigation. Id. Bottella also testified, that "the officer's voice was firm." Id. at 7. The Arbitrator notes in her decision that the witness "did not testify that Grievant was rude or threatening." Id. After Roberti went inside, Officer Catamero did not write a ticket for Fraraccio, but, instead, issued a warning. Id. at 8.

         Roberti filed a complaint against Officer Catamero that same day. Id. Chief Richard Tamburini (Chief Tamburini) assigned Major Joseph Razza (Major Razza) to investigate the complaint. Id. at 8-9. Major Razza conducted an investigation by interviewing Roberti, Fraraccio, and Bottella and reported the results of the investigation to Chief Tamburini. Id. at 9. Major Razza recommended a two day suspension. Id. at 9. On July 29, 2015, Chief Tamburini found that Officer Catamero had violated three sections of the Johnston Police Department Rules and Regulations, "Civility, " "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, " and "Discourtesy." Id. at 10-11; 14-17. Chief Tamburini issued a "Summary Punishment" memorandum stating, "I am suspending you for (2) days without compensation due to your actions on the date in question." Id.; Def. Ex. C. Officer Catamero filed a grievance regarding the suspension, but Chief Tamburini denied it on August 3, 2015. Def. Ex. D.

         On August 10, 2015, IBPO, acting on behalf of Officer Catamero, filed a Demand for Arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Id. at 10. The Arbitrator held three hearings on January 20, March 4, and April 7, 2016. Award 1.

         On July 14, 2016, the Arbitrator issued a written decision in which she found that Officer Catamero had not violated any of the three Johnston Police Department Rules and Regulations for which Chief Tamburini disciplined Officer Catamero. Id. at 17. The Arbitrator found that no "just cause" existed for the suspension for several reasons. Id. at 13-17. She found Roberti's complaint was disingenuous, writing "[i]nstead of complying as an ordinary citizen would do, Roberti kept trying to insert herself into the situation." Id. at 14. The Arbitrator believed Roberti was not a credible witness as she had failed to mention that her father was a police officer and that it was unreasonable for Roberti not to understand that Officer Catamero was conducting a traffic stop of Fraraccio. Id. at 14-15. The Arbitrator further decided:

"Given the record evidence, including that Roberti is the daughter of a current or former police officer and Fraraccio's assessment that Roberti has an attitude, I conclude that Roberti saw her boss being stopped by a police officer and decided ...

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