PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A majority of officers in the Providence Fraternal Order of Police on Wednesday voted “no confidence” in two of their leaders — Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Mayor Jorge Elorza — while condemning statements made by Elorza and Council President Sabina Matos in relation to an incident involving a Providence firefighter.
The vote tallies, according to the union, were 385-10 in favor of no confidence in Paré, 382-13 in favor of no confidence in Elorza and 380-11 in favor of condemning statements made by Elorza and Matos.
There are 425 total members of the union. No actions were taken in relation with Col. Hugh Clements, the police chief.
“The results of these votes overwhelmingly show the lack of confidence which the Providence FOP and the men and women of the Providence Police Department have in Commissioner Paré and Mayor Elorza, and show the obvious frustration and sense of betrayal felt by these men and women,” the union’s executive board wrote in a statement provided by president Michael Imondi.
The vote was scheduled in response to Paré’s news conference held on June 16, detailing the actions of Officers Nathaniel Calicci and Matthew Sandorse, who had an encounter with firefighter Terrell Paci on June 2.
Paci, who is Black, told the story of the encounter live on WPRI 12 during a Black Lives Matter rally on June 5, reading a prepared speech about being stopped at gunpoint by the officers, one white and the other Black. The firefighters’ union called it “profiling” at the time.
Paré, in detailing the results of an internal investigation, said no racial profiling had occurred, but Sandorse would be disciplined for not turning on his body camera. (In addition to overseeing the police department, Paré is also the acting fire chief.)
Paci was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Paré said, sitting in a red car outside a fire station while officers were seeking two armed robbery suspects also said to be in a red car. (No suspects were ever arrested.)
He added that the situation could have been handled differently, and “better discretion” might have been used in the decision to search the firefighter’s car even after seeing that Paci and a female did not match the description of the two Hispanic males they were looking for.
Matos issued a statement in support of Paci shortly after he told his story, and Elorza apologized to the firefighter while calling his account “deeply, deeply disturbing.”
The union voted to condemn those statements Wednesday, writing “their lack of support for and disrespect for the men and women of the Providence Police Department is obvious and demoralizing.”
They also included a list of other grievances, including the fact that a patrol car had been stolen from the police garage and that Paré had criticized the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which is now being studied for potential changes at the State House.
Paré declined to comment Wednesday night.
Elorza responded to the vote Thursday morning, writing in a statement: “It concerns me that by adopting an antagonistic posture and using this forum to defend LEOBOR, the police union is retrenching into an us-versus-them mentality. If that is where the union wants to take the department, they are not only grossly misreading this moment but are missing an opportunity to be part of the solution.”
Matos wrote on Twitter shortly after the vote that she would be donating the $1,300 in campaign contributions she has received from the police union to three youth empowerment organizations that have been involved in recent protests against racism.
Matos also issued a statement earlier this week in anticipation of the vote, expressing her disappointment in the union.
“I find it disappointing that my public support of a firefighter who felt racially profiled by our police department would warrant this type of response by union leaders,” Matos said. “How is any community member supposed to feel comfortable coming forward with their own stories if the union responds in this manner to a black elected official simply for speaking out against racial profiling?”
Asked why the union did not include Clements in Wednesday’s votes, Imondi said in a text message: “Simple. As the mayor, commissioner and City Council have stated on numerous occasions, we have the best chief in the country, their words. It’s something we can actually agree on.”