PROVIDENCE – A former Rhode Island state trooper — whose assault of a motorist in a jail cell has spurred controversy and litigation for almost a decade — has won a disability pension in court, his lawyer said.
The latest chapter in the Jamie Donnelly-Taylor saga took place before Judge Kevin McHugh in Providence Superior Court Monday. According to Carly Iafrate, a lawyer for Donnelly-Taylor, McHugh ruled that the state police’s then-colonel arbitrarily denied Donnelly-Taylor’s pension, ordering the agency to reinstate it retroactively to when he first applied around late 2018.
Troopers who are disabled from injuries caused by their work duties can get a pension worth 75 percent of their pay, tax-free. Donnelly-Taylor and the Rhode Island State Police had long agreed he had a permanent disability preventing him from working — namely, post-traumatic stress disorder.
They disagreed on what caused it, and whether he was entitled to a pension because of it.
Donnelly-Taylor pointed to, among other things, a January 2014 work incident, when he fired his service weapon at a car that was driving at him. His actions were later deemed justified, his attorney said.
Only a month later, Donnelly-Taylor was involved in another incident – the arrest of Lionel Monsanto, a Black motorist from Central Falls, for allegedly driving with a suspended license. As Monsanto was taken into a cell, Donnelly-Taylor punched him.
Donnelly-Taylor later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault, though later tried to retract it, saying he had been pressured to plead by former State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell. Donnelly-Taylor served a suspension and returned to work, but was put on sick leave after sending a division-wide email in February 2017 about the case. Monsanto sued, and settled for $125,000.
Donnelly-Taylor has continued to defend his actions, which has spurred pushback: He “has convinced himself of innocence while any reasonable person who may view the film would readily appreciate the trooper’s despicable conduct,” Monsanto’s lawyer told The Providence Journal in 2018. The video would not be released until 2019. Donnelly-Taylor was fired in late 2019.
The incident and the fallout were traumatizing, Donnelly-Taylor said. But they were not the sole cause of the PTSD that disabled him from working, he said. His PTSD was based on multiple traumatic incidents from his work career that included the Monsanto incident, but also others, some stemming from even before the assault, he argued.
The Rhode Island State Police, under former Col. James Manni, had a different view. Manni said Donnelly-Taylor’s disabling stress resulted from his assault of Monsanto and the fallout from it. Troopers can’t get pensions from work that’s outside the scope of their duties, and committing a crime is not in the scope of a trooper’s duty, Manni reasoned.
McHugh, ruling from the bench Monday, sided with Donnelly-Taylor, according to Iafrate. The medical opinion in the case had concluded Donnelly-Taylor’s disability wasn’t limited to just the Monsanto incident, Iafrate said.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that doubts Jamie Donnelly-Taylor suffered mental health issues as a result of his job,” Iafrate said. “That’s the point of having that pension system, is to provide benefits for people in that situation.”
The pension lawsuit was originally filed in November 2019. In November 2021, a different judge hearing the case ordered Manni to clarify his legal position. Manni did so in April 2022, and stuck to his original denial. But McHugh found, in the words of Iafrate, that Manni’s “second decision was just as problematic as the first one.”
McHugh did find that the state police colonel has the authority to decide whether or not troopers like Donnelly-Taylor should get pensions in cases like this, rather than a retirement board, siding with the state police on that issue. But he or she can’t do so arbitrarily or capriciously, and McHugh found that in this case, Manni did so, according to Iafrate.
A written decision was not available Monday; Iafrate recounted the contours of the decision in an interview. The state police’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The agency is now led by Colonel Darnell Weaver, the fourth colonel to grapple with the Donnelly-Taylor episode.
This article has been updated to clarify that the motorist was not handcuffed at the time of the assault.