CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence branch of the NAACP and the city of Cranston are at odds over whether city’s deputy fire chief was recorded using a racial slur.
NAACP President Jim Vincent said he heard the slur when he listened to a publicly-released version of a 2017 audio recording of a scuffle between Paul Valletta and a fire lieutenant that resulted in Valletta being charged and convicted of disorderly conduct. That charge was eventually vacated.
Valletta is in line to be the city’s next fire chief, and Vincent said that’s no position for a man who uses racially-charged language.
“I just felt that the mayor should know if this person did do that, then he has a decision to make,” Vincent told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.
Vincent believes the recording captured Valletta saying, “You want to call me [expletive] names? Call me [racial slur]!”
City officials and Valletta’s attorney dispute that, saying Valletta said, “You want to call me [expletive] names? Call me names!”
The audio was played aloud in court in 2017 and also aired by the media. Eyewitness News attempted to get the court transcript of the audio, but a court spokesman said written transcripts are not made for district court proceedings.
Valletta’s attorney, James Kelleher, said he was “flabbergasted” by Vincent’s claims this week.
“The outrage here is that somebody would take this flimsy little false accusation and turn it into character assassination,” Kelleher said. “It’s outrageous. It’s outrageous to me.”
In a statement, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said he had listened to the unedited version of the audio multiple times, including Wednesday morning. He said he never heard Valletta use a racial slur.
He also said there was no mention of Valletta’s alleged use of the slur during court proceedings or the city’s own administrative investigation into the fight between Valletta and the fire lieutenant.
“I’ve had multiple people in my office listen to the tape this morning, and no one hears what is being alleged,” Fung said. “In fact, when those I asked to listen to the tape, who previously hadn’t heard it, did so, each heard the word ‘names’ and not the N-word.”
He added, “As the Chief Executive in this diverse city, and a former criminal prosecutor, I take all issues of racial bias very seriously. I am willing to listen to anyone at any time and if anyone has further evidence I will wholeheartedly consider it.”
Vincent said he listened to the recording twice and has no doubt what he heard.
“Everybody’s saying that he didn’t say it. I’m hoping that he didn’t but when I heard the tape, I heard it!” Vincent said.
He added, “I’m not trying to get anybody, I’m just trying to make sure that a mistake is not made in terms of a person that’s going to have a significant position.”