EAST PROVIDENCE — In a case viewed carefully by advocates on both sides of the always contentious issue, the Rhode Island Supreme Court recently ruled against East Providence Police Chief Christopher Parella and in the favor of four petitioners seeking concealed carry weapons permits.
The court, in orders dated October 25, granted Joseph J. Paiva, Jessica De La Cruz, Fernando Brasil and Brian Turgeon "writs of certiorari" and in the cases of Ms. De La Cruz as well as Messrs. Brasil and Turgeon "quashed" the chief's decision to deny their applications to carry concealed weapons.
Further, and again related to the cases of Ms. De La Cruz and Messrs. Brasil and Turgeon, the court directed Chief Parella to "render new decisions of the petitioners' applications within 90 days" of the order date.
In a separate decision pertaining to Mr. Paiva, the court said the chief "may" consider Mr. Paiva's "past assaultive behavior requiring intervention of Lincoln Police" and revocation of a previous permit to carry by the state attorney general's office while re-reviewing his request.
Calling the situation a "fiasco," David J. Strachman, an attorney with the Providence firm McIntyre Tate LLP who is representing the applicants, said Chief Parella and past EPPD chiefs have unnecessarily flouted state law and ignored court dictates going back several years.
"East Providence continues to violate rulings of the Supreme Court. They did it once previously and they were told they were wrong, and they keep doing it," Mr. Strachman continued. "Several people have been given these form rulings by the chief, and most importantly he is using the wrong legal statute…He seems like a decent guy, but he's just violating the law."
Chief Parella took issue with the term "fiasco," as one would likely expect. While acknowledging the court's ruling, he said the decision was basically about the "intricacies in the wording" of the statute and that his denial of the applications was not thoroughly explained.
"Yes, the Supreme Court quashed my decision, but it said there was not enough statement of fact in the denial letter," Chief Parella explained. "I recognize I was wrong, but I was wrong about a word. Going forward, this department will be far more detailed in the reasons why we issue denials in the future."
In a previous statement, Mr. Strachman wrote, "The alacrity of the rulings and the immediate order to East Providence in three of the cases is really heartening and seems to indicate that gun owners may not need to suffer years of full briefing in the future to obtain relief."
He said later, "It's nice for my clients because it saves them possibly years of litigation at the Supreme Court. It's really a violation of their civil rights. We started this effort probably about 15, 16 years ago. We now have a fairly hefty case log, which stands as precedents in cases like these."
The chief, again, took umbrage to Mr. Strachman's reference to civil rights, saying these specific cases had little to do with gun measures in general.
"The Second Amendment rights of people are not going to made or broken because of what Chief Parella does in these situations," the chief said. "No one is taking their guns away. No one is saying they can't buy a gun. All we're saying is that these people haven't met the criteria in Rhode Island General Law."
Chief Parella, likewise, said he, too, has a history of working with applicants he's deemed as qualified to obtain concealed carry permits according to the law. He said in his two-plus years as chief he's approved some 50 permits.
"I have no issues with the plaintiffs, Mr. Strachman, the NRA (National Rifle Association), no one. I'm not pro-gun or anti-gun. I try to follow the law. I'm pro-Rhode Island General Law and I took an oath to protect the community," Chief Parella said. "The East Providence Police Department follows the law. I do have issues with the General Assembly. They need to fix the law sooner rather than later because right now we have two separate standards, under two separate bodies with two distinctly different wordings. If not, they should just make us a concealed carry state and be done with it.
Chief Parella was referring to a section of Rhode Island General Law, which gives both the Attorney General's office and municipal police chiefs oversight of concealed carry permits. However, the wording in each statute is dissimilar in that the A.G.'s office "may" issue a permit while chiefs "shall" grant the permit. Also, in his denial letters, he said he errantly used the phrasing "need" as opposed to the "reason" why the applicants should or shouldn't receive a permit, something the court took issue with as well.
"I'm going to follow exactly what the Supreme Court tells me to do. I'm going to re-evaluate all of the cases. I'm going to look at them as though they were in a vacuum, as if there was no prior thought given or action taken," the chief continued. "And if there is a denial, there will be a denial. And if it's granted, it will be granted. We will correct our applications and we will correct our denial process.
"As a chief, I'm looking out for my community first. Of course, I'm going to obey the law, I was always act first in the best interest of community I'm sworn to protect. In each of these cases, what I'm attempting to do is strike a balance between adhering to the law and the safety of the community."
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