EAST PROVIDENCE — The top cop in Rhode Island does not hold East Providence’s top public safety officer in high regard, at least that’s how a piece of correspondence reads. And it’s readily apparent from the latter’s response the feeling is mutual.
In a rather scathing letter penned by Col. Steven O’Donnell, the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police clearly impugned the performance and professionalism of East Providence City Manager Peter Graczykowski during the most recent interaction between the two entities.
The Post has obtained a copy of the letter recently written by Col. O’Donnell to City Council President James Briden in which he provides his observations of Mr. Graczykowski in regard to the manager’s conduct, through emails and an in-person meeting, over a period of time in August of this year while the State Police were conducting an investigation into alleged misconduct of a city employee as well as the seemingly inordinate presence of the troopers in East Providence around the Labor Day holiday.
“The correspondence from Col. O’Donnell was brought to my attention weeks after it was written, and now again, resurfaced several weeks later, for reason unknown. It was purportedly a result of the meeting that Col. O’Donnell requested with my office, at which I was present with Atty. Michael Ursillo, who assists the City with labor and public safety issues,” Mr. Graczykowski wrote in an email, detailing his position on the matter.
“As one can glean from the letter, I made inquiries with the State Police as to their involvement with matters normally handled by the Professional Standards unit in East Providence; as well as the abnormally large presence of the troopers in East Providence, which occurred immediately after my first inquiry,” he continued. “I made the inquiries in response to questions asked by the City Council members and the local press. I had no available answers to these inquiries, since I had not been notified by the (EPPD) Police Chief (Joseph Tavares), who denied knowledge of either matter.”
To the possibility of a city employee being under State Police investigation, Col. O’Donnell did not get into any specifics in the letter, but did take the manager to task for involving himself in any case of its kind.
“In my opinion, his entire email including his expectation that we take ‘no further action without (his) prior knowledge’ is inappropriate,” Col. O’Donnell wrote Mr. Briden. “On its face, it appears that Mr. Graczykowski is attempting to interfere with a Rhode Island State Police investigation. I am bringing this to your attention because it is troubling, at best, to understand why a person in such a position cannot comprehend the separation of power and authority between his position and that of the Rhode Island State Police.”
Mr. Graczykowski, according to Col. O’Donnell, also requested to be informed as to why there appeared to be an increased level of State Police presence in the city in late August.
Col. O’Donnell detailed in the letter the State Police were in fact patrolling the city as part of an initiative to enforce drunk driving laws around Labor Day. There was no other reason why the State Police were in East Providence and, despite Mr. Graczykowski’s protestations, no protocols were breached by not informing the City Manager of the State Police’s intentions.
“Even with this explanation, Mr. Graczykowski insisted that he should be notified when the State Police is in his city. I attempted to explain that we would never be able to, nor would we, notify every town/city official or police chief every time we entered their city,” Col. O’Donnell wrote.
He continued, “This would be a ludicrous request and operationally impossible to accomplish. I also attempted to explain the fact that the State Police has statewide jurisdiction.”
Included in the letter was a reference to Mr. Graczykowski himself being the subject of a recent State Police investigation. The City Manager’s conduct came under scrutiny at the request of the Budget Commission after the former attempted to remove EPPD Chief Tavares in April of this year.
“From our historical perspective, having a city manager who is the subject of a recent investigation not only inquire, but do so in the manner he did regarding our Uniform and Detective presence in East Providence, causes suspicion,” Col. O’Donnell wrote.
The Superintendent continued, “The basis for the investigation was that he shared with members of the East Providence Budget Commission that he was directed to place the Chief of Police on leave to secure his own employment contract. He told the Commission that Council Members Rossi and Rose told him that if he dismissed the Chief he would get a renewal of his contract.
“Mr. Graczykowski was interviewed RISP Detective in the presence of his attorney Mr. Ursillo. Mr. Graczykowski evaded our detective, refusing to speak with him until such time that he had Mr. Ursillo present. He stated that his comments about moving the Chief out to get his employment contract were taken out of context and that he placed the Chief on leave due to performance issues. When interviewed, Mr. Rose exercised his Constitutional Rights and referred our detectives to an attorney. Ms. Rossi was interviewed but she refused to give a statement, exercising her 5th Amendment rights.”
Both Mr. Briden and Col. O’Donnell, in separate requests, confirmed the authenticity of the letter in possession by The Post.
When asked for comment, the Council President said, “I’ll let the letter speak for itself.”
Col. O’Donnell echoed that statement, adding, “I have no comment. The letter speaks for itself and was delivered consistent with our professional correspondence between government entities.”
Mr. Graczykowski said the Superintendent misconstrued the situation entirely.
“The assertion that I somehow did not cooperate fully with the previous State Police investigation is patently false. I cooperated fully, first meeting with an investigator, who arrived announced and without appointment; and later through yet another meeting at which I provided a taped statement, requested by the State Police,” Mr. Graczykowski said. “The continued, unsubstantiated allegations that two Councilmen had influenced me in making my decision to suspend Chief Tavares are not true. It is because any such comments, allegedly channeled through State-appointed members of the Budget Commission; were taken out of context and clearly misunderstood. If any Council member is concerned about any City issue, it is their job to notify me; and it is my job to act on it appropriately.
The manager added, “Frankly, I am disappointed by the tone of the correspondence and the way in which it was distributed. I made inquiries as one chief appointed official of an organization to another, and met with Col. O’Donnell at his request. I also conveyed his statement regarding the increased State Police presence to the public without additional comments. I certainly hope that it will not set the tone for cooperation between our agencies, as the City values any legitimate assistance it receives from the State Police.”