PROVIDENCE — Former Rhode Island State Police superintendent Steven G. O’Donnell appeared before the Smithfield Town Council this week, claiming Councilman David P. Tikoian had “stalked” and “bullied” his wife and raising questions about Tikoian’s declaration papers to run for state Senate.
O’Donnell’s appearance along with his wife marks the latest chapter in a long-simmering feud between O’Donnell and Tikoian, a former State Police major and North Providence police chief.
“David Tikoian worked for me at the Rhode Island State Police. The day he didn’t get promoted is the day that changed for my wife, and she will explain that to you,” O’Donnell told the council on Tuesday night. “He made derogatory remarks to her, he stalked her, he bullied her.”
O’Donnell, who began speaking about 55 minutes into the meeting, also noted that Senator Stephen R. Archambault, a Smithfield Democrat, had decided against running for re-election at the last minute and that Tikoian, a Democrat, had submitted papers to run for the Senate District 22 seat just before the June 29 deadline.
O’Donnell raised questions about whether Tikoian got the paperwork in on time, saying that the town lacks a time stamp and that a handwritten notation on when the document was filed has been changed. “It was an altered document,” he said. “In the world I used to live in, those documents used to be investigated.”
O’Donnell called the last-minute activity a “disgrace” that prevented other potential candidates from running.
“I would be willing to bet somebody or many people on this council got blocked, including me who was solicited by the people that I’m talking about to run for office for that seat,” he said. “If I chose to run or not, that is my choice — not somebody else, not Steve Archambault’s choice, not Dave Tikoian’s choice.”
His wife, Holly O’Donnell, told the Town Council that Tikoian had tried to “intimidate, harass, bully me.” She cited two examples.
Once, she said, she was in a Mineral Spring Avenue coffee shop in North Providence when Tikoian walked in wearing his police chief’s uniform and “decided to stand at the end of the counter and stare at me.” She said, “I know it doesn’t sound like any big deal to anyone here,” but it was “given the prior three years of what I’d had been dealing with him.”
As she left the coffee shop, she said he walked in front of her car and smiled — “the smile that he loves to smile at me to let me know that ‘I gotcha again, I’ve upset you again.’ He is a bully.”
Holly O’Donnell said her husband called North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi to tell him what happened, and the mayor indicated “it would be taken care of and it wouldn’t happen any more.”
But a few months later, she told the council, Tikoian and another North Providence police officer spotted her car and “made a point to stand and point at my car and once again make me feel intimidated.” She said she called Lombardi “crying hysterically because it was the week before my son’s wedding,” and the mayor assured her he’d speak to Tikoian again.
Later, she said, Lombardi told her that “he spoke to Mr. Tikoian, that he didn’t get it, and that maybe I should get a restraining order to make it stop. I wish I had gotten a restraining order now because now I know I don’t have leverage I probably could have had.”
Tikoian was present at the council meeting. He did not respond to the O’Donnells during the meeting.
When contacted by the Globe, Tikoian provided a statement, saying he and his family “have been the subject of Mr. O’Donnell’s wrath of intimidation, harassment, and threats” since his retirement from the State Police in 2015.
“He has continued to discredit me and my character with any opportunity available,” Tikoian said. “It seems each time I advance in my professional or political career he takes issue with my successes.”
He said his declaration of candidacy for the Senate seat was filed on time and in accordance with the rules. “If there is some question about how the submission time of 3:50 p.m. appears on the declaration paper, I would suggest the local board of canvassers can answer that,” he said.
Tikoian said, “The claims made against me by Mrs. O’Donnell are grossly inaccurate and taken out of context. If there was any validity to them, why didn’t Mr. O’Donnell simply pick up the phone and call me? He has my number. And to use his wife as a pawn in some personal issue he has with a former colleague is simply bizarre behavior from my perspective.”
Tikoian said he will not allow O’Donnell’s “public attack on my character and reputation, of always comporting myself as a gentleman, deter me for serving our community.” He said, “If anyone is a victim in all of this, it has been me and my family.”
Tikoian’s statement concluded, saying, “To put it into perspective, I am not one who was the subject of a workplace harassment settlement.”
After leaving the State Police, O’Donnell became chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Providence, and in 2020 the YMCA and O’Donnell reached a settlement with two former female employees in a lawsuit involving allegations that the women were harassed, bullied and mistreated based on their gender.
Tikoian cited that settlement in 2021 when, as a member of the Smithfield Town Council, he opposed O’Donnell’s appointment to the town Budget and Financial Review Board.
“I don’t respect him. I can tell you that, but that’s my opinion,” Tikoian told the Valley Breeze at the time. He said O’Donnell lacked the financial experience and background to be on a budget board, and he thought the board should have more diversity.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, O’Donnell noted Tikoian had objected to his appointment to the budget board.
O’Donnell said he has lived in Smithfield more than 25 years and has 35 years of law enforcement experience, but his appointment “did not go over well with one of your council members.” He said Tikoian “called me out publicly, accusing me of not having the background, but to your credit this board looked aside” and appointed him to the board.
At one point, Town Council member Angelica Bovis asked if the conversation was getting into personal matters.
O’Donnell told the council, “The conversation won’t get out of control. It is not personal, and you’ll find out why in a short period of time ... It may sound personal and it’s personal because it’s my wife, not me. Understanding the positions I’ve held, I could really care less who likes me, who doesn’t like me, who’s mad at me, who’s not mad at me, who gets promoted, who doesn’t get promoted. It has no bearing on me but when it changes from direct contact with me to someone in my family, you are going to hear about it.”
O’Donnell noted the council meeting was a public forum. “It’s my First Amendment right,” he said. “I sit on many boards and commissions, respectfully, and I know the Roberts Rules of Order probably better than most people.”
On Friday, Smithfield Acting Town Clerk Lyn Antonuccio and Town Manager Randy R. Rossi said that Tikoian’s declaration papers were submitted at 3:50 p.m. on June 29 – 10 minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline to declare his candidacy for the Senate District 22 race.
Antonuccio said a staff member made a handwritten notation of the 3:50 p.m. submission time, but the 3 looked like a 5 so she wrote over it to try to make it clearer. She said the town did not have a time stamp machine at that time, but it has since purchased one.
Tikoian is running in a Democratic primary for the open Senate District 22 seat against Melanie DuPont, and the winner will face Republican Paul Santucci in the Nov. 8 general election.
On Twitter, DuPont said, “I want to express my support for Holly and Steven O’Donnell. I appreciate their bravery in coming forward. No one should have to endure stalking, harassment, and intimidation, especially not from men in uniform. Speaking out against a bully is difficult, but talking openly about your experiences is what removes power from the bully and returns power to you.”
The article has been updated to include information from Smithfield town officials and a statement from Melanie DuPont.