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RI College hired cop facing sexual harassment claim in Central Falls

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Central Falls police officer accused of racially charged sexual harassment recently was hired as a consultant at Rhode Island College to draft campus police policies, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

Joseph Tougas is accused of sending a former Central Falls dispatcher “sexually explicit texts,” throwing “plastic discs” at her chest and frequently saying she, “preferred the genitalia of black men,” according to a federal lawsuit filed last September.

“On one occasion, Tougas referred to his police baton as [a racial slur] beating stick,” the plaintiff alleged in the lawsuit.

RIC, meanwhile, hired Tougas to work part-time as a consultant between June and November last year, “to draft and implement policies and train personnel in related software,” for the college’s police department accreditation process, according to RIC spokesperson John Taraborelli.

The publicly funded college paid Tougas $1,680 for 56 hours of work, Taraborelli added.

“He no longer works for us,” Taraborelli said in an email. “We have no comment on any matters related to his employment in Central Falls.”

Taraborelli did not responded to questions about whether the lawsuit prompted the end of Tougas’s employment at the college.

Tougas, who did not respond to requests for comment, is one of three Central Falls police officers accused in the federal lawsuit. In February, Tougas denied the accusations in a response to the complaint.

The dispatcher who accused him was hired in 2011 and went out of sick leave in 2017 due to an alleged hostile work environment, according to the lawsuit. She was fired in March 2019.

Rhode Island College’s current Police Chief James Mendonca was the Central Falls chief at the time of the alleged incidents. According to the plaintiff, Mendonca knew about the harassment.

“Officials were made aware of and participated in sexual harassment but failed to remedy or prevent it,” the plaintiff wrote in the lawsuit.

Some of the alleged incidents happened during a department sexual harassment training session, according to the plaintiff. Both Mendonca and Tougas served on the General Assembly’s 2018 Special Legislative Commission to Study Unlawful Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

In an emailed response, Mendonca said Tougas’ “position [at RIC] was strictly remote.”

“Beyond that, I am not at liberty to comment on personnel matters related to either the Central Falls Police Department or Rhode Island College, nor litigation to which I am not a party,” Mendonca said.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff also accuses Central Falls Detective Omar Ospina of sexually assaulting her in 2011. Ospina, who has not responded to requests for comment, was cleared of the allegation after a R.I. State Police investigation. Ospina has denied the accusations detailed in the lawsuit.

Current Central Falls Chief Daniel Barzykowski, Mayor James Diossa and Director of Finance Cynthia DeJesus are also named as defendants in the lawsuit in the capacity of their respective positions with the city.

Central Falls spokesperson Chris Hunter said based on what he called an independent investigation, the city “is confident that the allegations made against Lieutenant Tougas and Detective Ospina are not supported by law and will ultimately be dismissed.”

If you have something for Target 12 to investigate send Walt an email at wbuteau@wpri.com and you can 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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