PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Pawtucket Police Chief Tina Goncalves ordered officers to stop a retired police captain after he caught the chief using a police vehicle to run errands in Massachusetts on Monday.
Mayor Don Grebien is defending Goncalves, saying he saw nothing wrong with the chief using the city police vehicle for personal business during the work day, because she is expected to be on-call all the time.
“I get the perception issue, and I want to respect the taxpayers,” the mayor said. “Because there are people out there who are going to say, ‘Oh my God, it is an issue.’ But for us, there was nothing that she violated.”
In an interview Wednesday, Grebien said he also agreed with the chief’s decision to call other officers to block the retired police captain’s truck. He referred to retired police captain Manny Maciel as “a bitter ex-employee,” and told the Globe that if Maciel continues to follow the chief, he should be charged with stalking.
A charge of stalking in Rhode Island requires proof of knowingly and repeatedly following someone with intent to place that person in reasonable fear of bodily injury. Grebien later acknowledged that it’s not against the law to record or take pictures of police officers, or to follow them on public roads.
Goncalves said in an interview Thursday that she is considering filing a complaint against Maciel with the state police, calling him a “disgruntled ex-employee.” Although this was the first time she knew about him following her, she said she was concerned because he was a former Pawtucket officer who might carry a firearm and she didn’t know his motive.
“It’s concerning in public safety when someone’s following you,” Goncalves said. “Honestly, had I known it was Captain Maciel, I probably would have pulled up to him and asked what was going on. ... I don’t know what he was thinking or why he was following me.”
Maciel, who lives in Pawtucket and retired this year after 23 years at the Police Department, said his former boss should be accountable for her actions when she is supposed to be working. “She’s a public official and open to scrutiny,” he told the Globe.
Maciel said it was just before 10 a.m. on Monday when he saw a black SUV driving erratically and speeding ahead of him. When he stopped at a red light, he recognized that it was a police vehicle and decided to follow.
Maciel said he followed the SUV to a residential cul de sac in Seekonk, Massachusetts, where the chief’s sister lives with her husband, a retired Pawtucket officer and former colleague of Maciel’s. He realized that the woman getting out of the black SUV was Pawtucket’s chief of police.
Using his cell phone, Maciel recorded Goncalves in her sister’s driveway carrying bags of items out of the unmarked police cruiser. Goncalves was in civilian clothes and didn’t appear to be wearing her police firearm.
Maciel said he decided to see where Goncalves was heading next. “I wanted to see if she was going to work, because our taxes are paying for this. She was using a police vehicle for personal errands,” said Maciel. “Now I’m curious, because she’s doing everything but going to the police station.”
Goncalves drove back into Pawtucket and stopped for gas at the city Department of Public Works building on Armistice Boulevard. Maciel said he followed at a distance and pulled into the Harley-Davidson parking lot across the street.
He said Goncalves remained in the lot and appeared to notice his truck. He waited in the business lot, and after a few minutes, two police cruisers arrived and blocked him in, Maciel said.
“I rolled down my window when the officers pulled up, and they said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to get involved in this,’” Maciel said. “I said, ‘Tell the chief I said hi — she knows my car. You guys are violating my rights. You guys are blocking my egress.’”
Gonsalves told the Globe she called dispatch for officers to check out who was following her. “You never stop a car on your own. In my position, I would call it in,” Goncalves said. “A patrol car would be best … they are marked and in uniform and be able to stop the car.”
Goncalves said she had noticed Maciel’s truck when she was at her sister’s house in Seekonk and when she drove back into the city, but didn’t realize it belonged to him.
Maciel disputed that, saying the chief would have recognized his truck, because they used to park next to each other at the police station. Maciel said that Goncalves also knows where he lives, because she drives past his house on Armistice Boulevard on her way to Seekonk.
Maciel accused the chief of abusing her authority by having other Pawtucket officers stop his truck.
“She knows who I am, and she wanted to prove a point,” Maciel said. “It’s intimidation. To intimidate me.”
On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after a Globe reporter made inquiries to the chief, the union president, and the mayor, Maciel said he got a phone call from the union president. “He said the chief wants to let it go,” Maciel said.
Union president Sgt. Kenneth Dolan told the Globe in an email Wednesday that the union’s interest in this was “somewhat diminished” because neither Maciel nor Goncalves are active members of FOP Lodge No. 4. Dolan wrote that sending an officer in the district and two officers as backup was a standard response when officers are dispatched to check on a vehicle.
There was no record of Maciel’s car stop in the public log kept by the police records bureau on Tuesday.
At the Globe’s request, Mayor Grebien provided a separate log of Maciel’s stop, along with a brief police report; neither he nor the chief could explain why it didn’t appear in the public log. The report said that Goncalves called for assistance and pointed to the blue Ford pickup truck that she said had been following her for several streets. “She requested that we identify the driver,” patrolwoman Dianne Rittmann-McLaughlin wrote. “We identified the driver, who was known to us as Retired Captain Manny Maciel.”
Grebien appointed Goncalves as police chief in 2017. She is now paid a salary of $145,479, including a weekly stipend as acting public safety director.
Grebien said that Goncalves didn’t violate any policies or procedures by using the city vehicle. “The expectation is she is always on call and always responsive,” the mayor said. She was coming from her home in Foster, in the northwest corner of Rhode Island, and heading into work, he said. Seekonk borders Pawtucket and East Providence.
Some Pawtucket residents and city council members have complained that the chief becomes defensive when questioned and is not available to the public. Grebien agreed, saying that sometimes, “the wall goes up.” He said the city has hired a civilian liaison and will have a detective sergeant “be the face” of the Police Department and handle public relations.
Overall, though, Grebien said he’s happy with Goncalves’ performance. “She’s doing a great job. She’s getting the things done,” the mayor said. “Is she out there enough where people want to see her? You know, that’s a balance. But I never questioned her time or integrity and the way it’s changed the department.”