PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND – 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 SUV in which she was riding during Tropical Storm Irene.
Testifying in his own defense, North Providence police Col. 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 Attleboro, has pleaded not guilty to larceny over $500 and solicitation to receive stolen property. 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 by a jury.
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 say anything 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.”
Giving his first public account of the events, Whiting described getting into a pursuit with 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 instead threw an object at his SUV.
Whiting testified he then chased the vehicle until it turned down a dead-end street and struck a parked car.
The Explorer’s occupants ran away from the crash site, Whiting testified. Among them was 21-year-old Justina Cardoso, a former stripper who testified she left behind all her belongings, including her 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.
During cross examination, Whiting testified he made a “conscious decision” to turn over the money to Brown, the Pawtucket officer who reported to the scene, at the conclusion of the investigation on the dead-end street where the chase ended.
“I had no intention of stealing the money. I didn’t steal the money,” Whiting said.
He added he did not have time during the investigation to tell Brown that he had the money.
“I have $714. How long does that take,” Assistant Attorney General Mark Trovato asked.
Before Brown left the crash scene to finish his work at the Pawtucket police station, Whiting testified that 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.
When they arrived at the parking lot, Whiting testified he and Brown made small talk. Whiting, who served on the Pawtucket police force for nearly 30 years before becoming the North Providence police chief, is an acquaintance of 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 accompanies 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’s “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.
He is expected to continue his testimony on Tuesday.