WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Cranston’s deputy fire chief faced a judge Tuesday on criminal charges tied to an alleged fight with a lieutenant that was captured on audio recording.
Paul Valletta, who’s also the head of the city’s firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 1363, was arraigned Tuesday on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct.
“I’m looking forward to the truth coming out, then I’ll be back to work doing what I love doing,” Valletta said after leaving court. He walked away without commenting further.
According to a police affidavit obtained by Eyewitness News, Lt. Scott Bergantino and Valletta got into an argument on Sept. 9 at fire station 6, where firefighters had gathered to participate in a “Fill the Boot” drive. According to the complaint, Bergantino and Valletta began to argue about overtime, and Bergantino made a disparaging remark about Valletta’s mother.
The affidavit says Bergantino told police, “Deputy Chief Valletta approached him and pushed him up against the chalkboard, punched him in the head two times, and then threw him over a recliner and onto the floor.”
According to court documents, Bergantino recorded audio of the altercation and turned it over to police. Multiple other firefighters also witnessed the altercation.
Both Valletta and Bergantino were placed on paid leave two days after the incident, according to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung’s spokesperson Mark Schieldrop. He said Mayor Fung was notified of the altercation one day after it happened, and initiated an internal investigation.
Chip Muller, an attorney representing Bergantino, said Tuesday that his client suffered a concussion in the alleged assault.
Muller said Bergantino was “concerned for his safety” when it comes to returning to work, in part because of a “rift” that has emerged at the fire department in light of the incident.
“We hope the prosecutors and the courts take the assault charge seriously,” Muller said. “It’s bad enough for a citizen to do that to another human being, but to have a superior do that to another person at work is just outrageous.”
Muller also said Bergantino plans to file a union grievance about the overtime issue.
The vice president of the firefighters’ union on Tuesday said Valletta is still the union’s president, but has recused himself from the grievance committee until the case is resolved.
Valletta entered a not guilty plea and is due back in court on October 26.