PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The young man shot by an off-duty Pawtucket police officer in 2021 is calling for lawmakers to repeal or reform the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a state law that sets out a process for officers accused of wrongdoing.
In written testimony ahead of Tuesday evening’s hearing on several proposals to change the law, Dominic Vincent said he had been impacted “to an unimaginable degree” by police use-of-force.
“Specifically, Officer Daniel Dolan’s use of a deadly weapon to have a ‘fatherly chat’ with me on the night of June 23rd, 2021,” Vincent wrote in his testimony. “According to Dolan, speeding was enough to warrant a discharge of a firearm.”
Vincent, who was 18 at the time, was shot in the arm by Officer Dan Dolan in the parking lot of a West Greenwich pizza shop in 2021. Dolan — who was off duty at the time and driving a truck with an open beer can next to him — has said he followed Vincent’s vehicle because the teen was speeding.
Vincent said he did not understand that Dolan, who was in plain clothes and flashed a badge in the pizza parking lot, was a real police officer. When he tried to drive off, Dolan fired a shot into the car.
Dolan claimed self-defense at his trial earlier this year and was acquitted by a jury of multiple criminal charges.
The Pawtucket Police Department wants to fire Dolan over the incident, but must go through a hearing process under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, or LEOBOR, where a panel of three police officers will ultimately decide Dolan’s punishment for the shooting.
In the meantime, Dolan remains on paid suspension, and was paid full back pay for the time he was on unpaid suspension when his criminal case was pending, as required by LEOBOR.
“While some officers truly protect and serve as they should, we must not protect those who endanger innocent lives,” Vincent wrote in his testimony.
He said the “emotional toll” of the shooting is still too much for him to testify in person at Tuesday night’s hearing.
Vincent’s mother Lisa Vincent testified in person at the House Judiciary hearing instead, explaining that her son has delayed entering college in order to recover from the shooting.
“Tell my son his life matters,” she said. “He’s been suicidal while Dolan is home collecting $123,000 … laughing all the way to the bank.”
“Dominic is suffering greatly,” Vincent added in her written testimony. “Unless you change the law, there will be more victims. Maybe beatings, maybe another shooting. Someone could even lose his/her life.”
Momentum to change Rhode Island’s police misconduct law has been building since the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020, but attempts to change the law have stalled for multiple years in a row.
As it stands, the law does not allow police chiefs to fire officers or suspend them for more than two days, unless the officer agrees to the punishment. If not, the officer has the right to request a LEOBOR hearing before a panel of three law enforcement officers, who decide whether to implement the chief’s punishment, or a different punishment that be more or less strict.
Those LEOBOR hearings can be delayed for months or years if the officer is charge with a crime, leaving them on the force in the meantime. Regardless of the severity of the offense, police departments must pay officers for the first six months of their suspensions, and continue to provide benefits such as health insurance even when unpaid suspension kicks in.
That’s why Providence Police Sgt. Joseph Hanley, who is currently awaiting his second trial on appeal for punching and kicking a handcuffed man in 2020, remains on the force more than two years after his assault conviction in Providence District Court. (Hanley, who is suspended, claims the force used against Rishod Gore was justified.)
The two reform bills heard Tuesday were introduced by state Reps. Ray Hull and Jose Batista, respectively, and a third bill to repeal the law entirely was introduced by Rep. Jennifer Stewart. All three are Democrats.
The leaders of both the House and Senate have expressed support for reforming LEOBOR, rather than repealing it completely.
Story continues below video.
Hull — a Providence police sergeant — has proposed extending the number of suspension days to 14 before an officer has a right to a LEOBOR hearing. His bill would also remove a “gag rule” that prevents chiefs from talking about officers under investigation, and would change the makeup of the LEOBOR panel to include civilians and police officers.
“When we get in trouble, they want to know what did that police officer do,” Hull said in an interview Tuesday. “I’ve always been an advocate that we should explain what actually happened.”
“We just can’t keep pushing this off,” he added.
Hull said the Hanley case is a good example of why police accountability needs to be reformed.
“In any barrel of apples, there’s a few rotten ones,” he told the committee at the start of the hearing. “That’s why this bill needs to be changed.”
Hull’s bill keeps the main premise of LEOBOR intact, preventing police chiefs from terminating officers for misconduct without triggering the right to a hearing.
Batista’s bill keeps the LEOBOR hearing, but flips the order of operations. The legislation would allow chiefs to punish officers as they see fit, following an investigation and procedural hearing.
Then, the officers could appeal the decision for review by the LEOBOR panel.
Batista, who has previously supported repealing the law, said he felt his bill is more “efficient,” since repealing it altogether would require lawmakers to figure out alternative due process for police officers, in line with labor laws that protect public employees.
“It does repeal the worst parts of LEOBOR,” Batista said. “The system is antiquated.”
Michael Imondi, the president of the Providence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3, has said he does not support extending the number of suspension days to 14, nor does he support changing the makeup of the panel.
Imondi said he would support a tiered system, where officers who are charged criminally could face stricter punishments than those who are only facing policy violations.
Hull, a member of the police union, said there is disagreement among the rank-and-file.
“He has his opinion and I have mine,” Hull said. “He as the president of the union protecting his body, and me as a legislator protecting the state.”
House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi said in an interview last month he is willing to pass legislation that goes further than what the police unions will accept.
“We came very close last year, we almost had a compromise in place,” Shekarchi said. “We’re committed to doing it again this year.”
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.