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Selectmen say police chief misinformed them about exams

The majority of the board issues a news release detailing concerns raised so far in its investigation of Chief Vito J. Scotti's handling of promotional exams for officers.

01:00 AM EST on Thursday, January 20, 2005

Journal Staff Writer

SEEKONK -- Minutes into last night's meeting, Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Steven Howitt read a news release detailing instances in which Police Chief Vito J. Scotti gave board members misinformation about his department's promotional exams in 2002 and 2003.

The board announced in late December that it was investigating the exams. Most members said they were concerned with the hiring of the proctor, how the tests were administered and scored, and the promotions.

In last night's four-page release, which had supporting documents attached to it, the board said the Johnston company hired to proctor the tests isn't registered as a corporation with Rhode Island's secretary of state.

The board also said it wasn't involved with hiring Professional Testing Services.

Scotti has said the last two town administrators approved the company, which Scotti knew of from his days as a deputy chief in Johnston. He said he chose the company, which is owned by Americo Ottaviano, because of Ottaviano's excellent credentials and because Massachusetts doesn't have a list of testing companies to choose from.

"However, given that the town pays for memberships and makes available resources through the Massachusetts Police Chiefs' Association, that should have adequately satisfied the need for the recruitment of a testing company," read Howitt from the release.

The board also said Scotti "on more than one occasion" told the selectmen the testing company owned the exams when they asked where the exams were located.

But town legal counsel contacted Ottaviano, and "the testing company owner said he forwarded the tests to the chief of police upon completion," read Howitt from the release. "The chief of police had them locked up in a filing cabinet in the police station."

The selectmen also said not only did the police officers come to the board with concerns "relative to the integrity of the promotional process," one officer filed a grievance wanting to see his tests.

In a press conference last month, Scotti said "there was no formal request by any member of the department to review their exams after the exam scores were posted, and there were no grievances filed by any member of the Police Department who participated in either testing process."

According to the board's statement, "the officer presented a written request to the chief of police, who in turn, refused the officer's request."

The chief then told two selectmen that the officer asked to see everyone's exams, which the board later discovered was not true, read Howitt.

In addition, the board said additional points, above and beyond their written and oral test scores, are given to officers for a clean disciplinary record for three years prior to taking the exam.

Yet, an officer who had been disciplined for viewing pornographic Internet sites from a Police Department computer in 2002 received "two additional points."

"The internal investigation into the Internet misuse began in November 2002, and the exam was given in March of 2003," read Howitt. "Although the internal investigation had not concluded, the individual received bonus points ... This maneuver placed that individual in the number- one spot over candidate number two by one and a half points."

The officer, who also "printed the pornographic images to show fellow officers during roll call," was promoted to sergeant early last year by the board.

The board said last night that "efforts were undertaken to downplay the seriousness of the pornographic infraction." But the board did not in its news release identify who had made those efforts.

"The obligation of the Board of Selectmen is to serve the residents of this community," read Howitt. "Often times, the decisions that the board must make are perceived as unpopular.

"... We, as a team, refuse to dismiss or ignore any complaint we receive from any department. If employees feel more comfortable talking to a board member, it signals a problem within the department. It tells us that we need to pay attention, ask questions and hopefully help to come to a workable resolution."

According to board Chairwoman Doreen Taylor, every member made corrections and gave input to the news release prior to last night except Selectman John Whelan. She said he did not respond until last night.

Whelan left immediately after the meeting ended and could not be reached for comment.

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