An article by Tim White on WPRI raises an interesting question. State Trooper James Donnelly-Taylor pleaded no contest to charges of assaulting a Central Falls man who had been arrested, and now he faces a civil lawsuit in the matter:
… the attorney general’s office has refused to represent Donnelly-Taylor in the civil suit. But they are representing the other defendants, including the state of Rhode Island, former State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell, Gov. Gina Raimondo, another trooper who took part in the traffic stop, and other officials. …
A spokesperson for Attorney General Kilmartin said his office believes this is the first time the office has not represented a state trooper in a legal action.
“As attorney general, I will never accept that criminal conduct falls within the job description of any Rhode Island state employee,” Kilmartin said in a statement. “Committing the crime of assault upon a prisoner – or anyone – is outside of the course and scope of the duties of a state trooper, and the taxpayers should not have to defend or pay for the criminal actions of Donnelly-Taylor.”
As White goes on to explain, Rhode Island law allows the attorney general to do as Kilmartin has done if “the act or the failure to act was because of actual fraud, willful misconduct, or actual malice.” The question is at what point an AG gets to make the decision that these characterizations apply.
If Donnelly-Taylor had been found innocent in the criminal case, or if it hadn’t been completed, one could argue that Kilmartin’s decision would be wrong, for the same reason that journalists tack “alleged” onto their stories even when the crime seems obvious: People charged with crimes get their day in court.
Another aspect to consider is that U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell has prohibited the release of a video of the incident so as to prevent its spread from tainting the pool of people who may be assigned to the jury. If that’s a concern, isn’t the attorney general doing something similar by calling it “criminal conduct”?