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Trooper’s lawsuit against state involving jail cell assault dismissed

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A federal judge dismissed an eight-count lawsuit filed by a state trooper who claimed he was defamed, and his rights were violated by former State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell following a 2014 assault case involving the officer.

James Donnelly-Taylor pleaded no contest to simple assault in 2014 and was given a one-year suspended sentence for a caught-on-video assault of Central Falls resident Lionel Monsanto. 

In December, the state reached a $125,000 settlement with Monsanto who was pulled over by Donnelly-Taylor in February 2014 and transported to the Lincoln barracks for allegedly driving with a suspended license.

In a 2014 interview, Monsanto showed Eyewitness News images of a black eye and redness in his face. In his civil lawsuit, Monsanto alleged Donnelly-Taylor punched him several times in the face, in the jail cell. 

“He just kept punching, punching and punching,” Monsanto said at the time.

Donnelly-Taylor filed his federal lawsuit in March 2016 against O’Donnell, former Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, and Rhode Island State Police, claiming his rights were violated when the state refused to defend him in Monsanto’s civil lawsuit.

Donnelly-Taylor, who is still a trooper but on Injured on Duty status, also claimed O’Donnell and the attorney general pressured him to enter a plea in the case in order to block the release of video of the assault.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell Jr. dismissed five of the counts on the grounds the Rhode Island Supreme Court  “covered the same claims” when the high court ruled the attorney general’s office was within its rights to refuse to represent Donnelly-Taylor in the Monsanto’s lawsuit. 

Judge McConnell dismissed two counts “on qualified immunity grounds.”

The eighth count was dismissed “for failure to make a claim.”

State Police Colonel James Manni said, “we respect the judicial process and the court’s decision in this matter.”

O’Donnell, now the CEO of the Greater Providence YMCA, said state police always maintained the Donnelly-Taylor case “was thoroughly investigated,” and he added that some of Donnelly-Taylor’s refuted statements were “made under oath.”

“Today’s ruling by the court to dismiss all of his allegations validates the actions taken by the State Police and the Office of the Attorney General at the time,” O’Donnell said.

Attorney General’s Public Information Officer Kristy dosReis said the court’s opinion “reaffirmed the authority” of the Attorney General to decline to defend a state employee who “engaged in willful misconduct or actual malice” and whose conduct was “not within the scope of employment.” 

Donnelly-Taylor could appeal the decision and his attorney John Martin said he is looking into what to do next.

“We are disappointed with the decision and taking a close look at all of our available options,” Martin said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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