PROVIDENCE — A suspended Rhode Island police chief testified at his trial Monday that he did not steal $714 from a stripper’s pocketbook after chasing a sport utility vehicle in which she was riding out Tropical Storm Irene.
North Providence police Colonel John J. Whiting gave a vastly different account of his exchange with a Pawtucket police officer who was investigating the Aug. 28 vehicle chase and foot pursuit in Pawtucket that involved the police chief.
Whiting, 58, of North Attleborough, Mass., has pleaded not guilty to larceny over $500 and solicitation to receive stolen goods. Providence County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Procaccini dismissed a charge against him of criminal solicitation to obstruct justice. Whiting’s case is being decided by a judge instead of a jury.
A Pawtucket officer, John Brown, testified last week that Whiting confessed to stealing the money. Brown said Whiting gave him the money with instructions to spend it in Las Vegas and not speak about it.
Whiting testified he told Brown to take the money as seized evidence and was being sarcastic when he told him: ‘‘I don’t give a [expletive] if you go to Vegas.’’
In his first public account of the events, Whiting described pursuing a Ford Explorer while driving through Pawtucket on his way to work in North Providence. He said the SUV was trying to get around a downed tree when he tried to pass the vehicle, and someone threw an object at his SUV. Whiting testified he chased the vehicle until it turned down a dead-end street and struck a parked car.
The Explorer’s occupants ran from the crash site, Whiting testified. Among them was 21-year-old Justina Cardoso, a former stripper who testified she left all her belongings, including money.
Whiting said he went through the SUV looking for evidence that might indicate who was in the vehicle. He said he found money inside a zippered pouch that he took because no Pawtucket police had shown up yet.
‘‘I didn’t intend to steal the money. I wouldn’t steal the money,’’ Whiting said.
By the time Brown, the Pawtucket officer, arrived at the crash scene, Whiting testified he was ‘‘shivering’’ and ‘‘drenched from head to foot’’ because of Tropical Storm Irene’s rains and winds.
While Brown was investigating, Whiting said, he spoke with two North Providence officers and a tow-truck driver. Before Brown left the crash scene to finish his work at the Pawtucket police station, Whiting testified, he asked Brown to meet him at a nearby parking lot. ‘‘I was going to give him the money at that time and answer any other questions about the accident,’’ Whiting said.
Whiting testified he and Brown made small talk at the parking lot. Whiting, who served on the Pawtucket police force for nearly 30 years, is acquainted with Brown, who has been a Pawtucket police officer for 24 years.
Eventually, Whiting testified, Brown said he was going to the site where Whiting tried to pass the Explorer to look for the bottle that the police chief thought was thrown at his vehicle, and Whiting accompanied him.
Whiting said he then turned over the money to Brown, who asked: ‘‘What, did you steal it or something?’’
Whiting said he angrily told him no and that he has ‘‘never stolen anything in my . . . life.’’
Whiting also testified that Brown was mumbling and hesitant to take the money from him. He said he was having trouble understanding what Brown was saying to him.
Whiting acknowledged he failed to count out the money he was turning over to Brown. Still, he said he expected Brown to submit it as seized evidence.
‘‘I admit I made a mistake by not counting out the money in front of him. That’s the only mistake I made,’’ Whiting said.