Pawtucket Settles Firefighters Locker Search Case

The City of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has agreed to pay five city firefighters $1,000 each for unlawfully searching their firehouse lockers. Firefighters Noah LeBlanc, Stephen Garlick, Manuel Benevides, Scott McDonald, and Steven Como filed suit last December alleging a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

The suit was brought by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island in US District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Pawtucket Fire Chief John Trenteseaux and Pawtucket Police Officer Mario Comella were named personally as defendants.

Quoting from the ACLU press release:

  • The unlawful searches took place in September 2023 after Pawtucket police officer Mario Comella sought and obtained a search warrant for a car owned by firefighter Patrick White based on a complaint that White was illegally transporting firearms from the vehicle. The search led to White’s arrest for firearms violations. The warrant did not authorize a search of White’s fire station locker, much less those of any other firefighters, nor was there any allegation that other firefighters were involved at all in White’s alleged illegal activities. Nonetheless, the police, with the approval of Fire Chief John Trenteseaux, searched the plaintiffs’ personal lockers without their consent one day when they were away from the station.

Quoting from the Consent Judgment:

  • Defendants’ September 5, 2023 search of the personal lockers of each Plaintiff assigned to the fire station located at 835 Newport Avenue, Pawtucket Rhode Island, which was assigned for his or her sole use for storage of personal items located within the “residential” private area of the Fire Station, without consent of each Plaintiff, a warrant supported by probable cause, or probable cause and exigent circumstances sufficient to constitute an exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article 1, §§ 2 and 6 of the Rhode Island Constitution prohibiting unlawful searches and seizures, denied each Plaintiff their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution….

Besides the $1,000 payments to the firefighters, the city agreed to pay the firefighters’ attorneys’ fees in the amount of $59,163.09. Here is a copy of the Consent Judgment:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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