Tiverton Police Lt. Panell: Case dismissed

Town council, officials, mum on reasons why

By Tom Killin Dalglish
Posted 6/29/17

IVERTON — Tiverton Police Department Lieutenant Timothy Panell walked out of the courthouse in Newport last Thursday morning a mostly free man after Second District Court Judge Colleen Hastings dismissed all but one of 58 criminal misdemeanor charges against him.

On the single remaining charge — Count 1, obtaining money under false pretenses — Lieutenant Panell was allowed to "maintain a plea of not guilty," said his lawyer, Norman L. Landroche Jr. in a brief interview following the court proceeding.

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Tiverton Police Lt. Panell: Case dismissed

Town council, officials, mum on reasons why

Posted

TIVERTON — Tiverton Police Department Lieutenant Timothy Panell walked out of the courthouse in Newport last Thursday morning a mostly free man after Second District Court Judge Colleen Hastings dismissed all but one of 58 criminal misdemeanor charges against him.

On the single remaining charge — Count 1, obtaining money under false pretenses — Lieutenant Panell was allowed to "maintain a plea of not guilty," said his lawyer, Norman L. Landroche Jr. in a brief interview following the court proceeding.

"This was a not guilty filing. Mr. Parnell maintained his innocence and took a one year not guilty," Mr. Landroche said. "The case sits in the courthouse for one year, and on completion of the one year the case is up for administrative expungement, and will be expunged."

"No comment," was Mr. Landroche's repeated response to questions of whether Mr. Panell would be required to make restitution to the town for monies he had allegedly received while at home when he was supposed to be on duty at the police station, whether he would lose any of his pension, or whether he would lose or be suspended from his job.

It has been reported, but not confirmed, that Mr. Panell will retire from the police department on June 30 and that he will not be required to make any restitution to the town.

The court dismissals Thursday morning came on the heels of a special executive session of the Tiverton Town Council Wednesday night in Town Hall, when the council voted 4-3 to accept a "plea bargain and memorandum of agreement" presented to it that was to dispose of the 58 misdemeanor counts against the now-47-year-old Mr. Panell.

Except for the vote itself, the council proceedings in Town Hall Wednesday night were all behind closed doors. The "plea bargain and memorandum of agreement" the council agreed to, and that the court Thursday morning approved of, have not been made public.

It has not been disclosed whether the council Wednesday night found Mr. Panell to have committed any wrongdoing, or whether it acted to impose any job discipline upon him, or sought restitution, or took action regarding his pension.

All seven town councilors were separately asked by e-mail to comment about the council decision and their reasons for supporting or opposing it. None commented or gave their reasons.

"Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, the solicitor has advised that any questions regarding the vote on Wednesday be referred to either the Town Administrator or to the Solicitor's office," said councilors Randy Lebeau and John Edwards, in nearly identical email answers. "If you would like to reach out to them, I'm happy to provide their contact information. Sorry I cannot be of more help to your article, but I must adhere to advice received from our Solicitor," each of them wrote.

Council Patricia Hilton telephoned to say she was adhering to the same instructions.

Neither Town Administrator Paul McGreevy or Solicitor Tony DeSisto has responded to requests for comment or with copies of the plea bargain or memorandum of agreement. Mr. McGreevy referred questions to Solicitor DeSisto.

The four council members voting in favor of the "plea agreement and memorandum of agreement" were Council President Joan Chabot, and councilors Christine Ryan, Randy Lebeau, and John Edwards, who made the motion to accept it. Voting against were councilors Patricia Hilton, Joe Perry, and Denise deMedeiros.

The vote to accept the plea agreement followed a failed attempt by some councilors to reject the deal. Ms. deMedeiros had made the motion to reject, which was seconded by councilor Hilton. That motion failed 3-4, by the same split council vote breakdown as later voted to accept it.

The proceeding Thursday in court for entering the plea agreement was brief. Town Prosecutor John Bernardo and Mr. Landroche went together behind closed doors (Lt. Panell was not with them) into Judge Hasting's chambers at 8:38 a.m. Thursday, presumably to confer with the judge, and emerged at 8:40 a.m..

The rest of the observable court action consisted of signing and filing paperwork with the courtroom clerk.

In all, 58 counts had been filed against Lt. Panell. Count 1 — the allegation of obtaining money under false pretenses — was one of 49 identical charges against the lieutenant filed on September 1, 2016, charging him for being at home when he was supposed to be on duty at work. Count 1 was the count to which the lieutenant maintained a plea of not guilty.

The other nine counts that made up the balance of the 58 charges against the lieutenant charged him with fraud and false dealing, allegedly for filing false paperwork in order to get paid for it being at home instead of at work.

The investigation of Lt. Panell

The court dismissals, and the council's action agreeing to them, capped an investigation against Mr. Panell that had its roots in late 2015.

As Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey wrote in a September 2016 report, "This investigation comes after a December 18, 2015 incident involving four (4) Tiverton police officers assigned to the midnight shift under the command of Lieutenant Panell who were suspended after being found sleeping in their patrol vehicles by Captain Patrick Jones in the back lot of the police department."

Chief Blakey said in his report, that "on or about December 23, 2015, I met with Lieutenant Panell in my office at police headquarters. The lieutenant felt that the discipline involving the officers was too harsh and asked that I reconsider the suspensions given to the respective officers. ... I informed the Lieutenant that all of the disciplinary action would stand and that sleeping on duty would not be tolerated in any form."

"I also told the Lieutenant that this was not an isolated incident of an officer falling asleep but a coordinated effort of the entire shift sleeping in the rear of the police department. I also reminded the Lieutenant that it would be embarrassing for the department and the potential for harsher discipline had a citizen or the media witnessed the officers sleeping in their cruisers. All of the officers involved were suspended," Chief Blakey wrote.

On March 17, 2016, Chief Blakey's report states, "I received an anonymous telephone message on my office answering machine. The female caller identifies herself as a Tiverton resident," and said she'd noticed Lt. Panell's cruiser outside his home at night when he was supposed to be on duty at the police station.

"How does he get away with this," the woman asked, Blakey said in his report. "He is supposed to be protecting our town," she said.

It was that anonymous call, Chief Blakey has said, that kicked off a months-long investigation.

The investigation that was to follow was extensive, and included such features as:

• Multiple hours of personal surveillance of Lt. Panell's Tiverton residence at 50 Shannon Avenue by both Chief Blakey, separately and together with, Chief Josue Canari of the Bristol Police Department;

• Interviews with numerous (at least eight) other police officers, of whom several admitted to having knowledge and/or receiving 'Orders' directly or implied by Lt. Panell, Chief Blakey said in his report, that the hours between 0300 HRS and 0600 HRS were identified as "quiet time," and no enforcement activity or work was to be conducted during that time frame by other officers assigned to the shift and under the command of Lt. Panell;

• GPS monitoring of Lieutenant Panell's cruiser, and video surveillance of his home.

After the 58 misdemeanor charges were filed against the Lieutenant on Sept. 1, 2016, there was a period of discovery by Lt. Panell's lawyer, Mr. Landroche, that was so extensive that the lawyers for the town and the defendant had to return to court nine times in the intervening months to ask for a continuation of the pre-trial conference. During that time Mr. Panell continued to be paid a salary by the town.

At one time, Lt. Panell was "the second highest paid employee in town," after Superintendent of Schools William Rearick, reported Tiverton Fact Check, a website edited by Justin Katz.
Lt. Panell earned a total (including overtime) of $116,627 in 2015, and a total of $119,072 in 2014, compared to the earnings of Superintendent of Schools, William Rearick, who earned (the website reports) $127,282 and $121,390 in 2015 and 2014 respectively.

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