Perhaps it was just a coincidence.
“Charges against councilor dismissed,” declared the front-page, top-right headline in the February 9, 2023 edition of the Sakonnet Times. At its meeting that same date, the Little Compton Town Council considered the following “Old Business” item: “Request from James O’Dell to continue discussion and process of updating the Control of and Licensing of Dogs Ordinances, which was started prior to the pandemic.”
At first glance, these may appear to be relatively mundane small-town events. The convergence of these two matters on the same day, though, whether coincidental or not, deserves the close attention of Little Compton residents, for reasons of both public safety and political accountability.
The caption beneath the photo accompanying the Sakonnet Times story encapsulates these related concerns: “Little Compton Town Council member Andrew Iriarte-Moore has had charges against him dismissed, following an incident with a dog walker last summer. Charges against his husband [Raul] were also dismissed.”
I attended the four hearings held since early last October in Second Division District Court in Newport involving the Iriarte-Moore case. The last of these hearings took place on February 3 when Associate Judge William J. Trezvant dismissed the case and sealed its court record. Both Andrew and Raul had been charged with disorderly conduct for the August 28, 2022 incident. Raul was also charged with simple assault and battery. Both charges are criminal misdemeanors by state law. The police found a third resident involved in the incident, Karen Zarriello, in violation of the town’s animal-control ordinance, for which she was fined $25.
Dismissal was the most sensible, and perhaps the inevitable, outcome of the case filed against Andrew and Raul. As Andrew told the Sakonnet Times, “cooler heads prevailed.” A question lingers, though: Why were these charges filed by the Little Compton Police Department in the first place?
I have a personal interest in and perspective on these matters, for several reasons:
1) I am familiar and friendly with Andrew Iriarte-Moore and Raul Iriarte-Moore. Raul has been an active citizen, as a leader of Love Wins Coastal and other community initiatives. I served on the Town Council with Andrew from 2018 through 2020. In 2018, we were the first Democrats elected to the Council since 2004. I chose not to run for re-election in 2020, but Andrew was re-elected that year (and again in 2022). I have worked closely with Andrew over several years on the Town Council and in other community matters. I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of exactly what took place in his neighborhood on that August day. In my experience, though, Andrew has proven to be a mature, level-headed, and even-tempered individual and public official, who chooses his words carefully and treats people with courtesy and civility.
Of course, neither Andrew, as a Town Council member, nor Raul, as a citizen and activist, should be treated differently from any other citizen with regard to the enforcement of state and federal laws or the ordinances of the town. But I believe the facts surrounding this incident, as recorded in the police department’s own charging documents, raise concerns and questions about how members of the police department handled this manner, especially in light of the eventual dismissal of their case against the Iriarte-Moores.
2) As it happens, the “incident with a dog walker” that resulted in the charges against Andrew and Raul took place on or near their property on Watson Way, which is connected to the Oak Forest subdivision in the north part of Little Compton. Andrew and I were serving on the Town Council in early 2020 when Mr. O’Dell and several other Oak Forest residents came before the Council to seek action on the control of dogs at large in their neighborhood. Mr. O’Dell’s most recent letter to the Town Council prompted me to re-construct, as best I could, what became of his and his neighbors’ earlier concerns and complaints.
My chagrined conclusion is that the Town Council dropped the ball in responding to their concerns, for which I share a degree of responsibility (at least for the duration of my term ending late in 2020). The recent incident involving the Iriarte-Moores and Ms. Zarriello clearly demonstrates, though, that the issues raised by town citizens in 2020 concerning the town’s animal control laws and their enforcement have not been adequately addressed. Town officials no longer have good reasons or excuses not to do so now, expeditiously and comprehensively.
* * *
In this post, I will address primarily the circumstances surrounding the August 28, 2022 “incident” (actually, a series of incidents) that led to the arrest and charges brought against the Iriarte-Moores. I will also address their several court hearings and the ultimate dismissal of the case, more than five months after charges were originally filed by the Little Compton Police Department.
In a subsequent post I will focus on the charge and fine assessed against Ms. Zarriello for violation of the town’s animal control ordinances, not only as a result of the August 28 incident but on several other occasions over the last decade. In that post I will also discuss how town officials have responded, or failed to respond, to the pleas from Mr. O’Dell and his Oak Forest neighbors in 2020 and again this year to review and reform the town’s animal control ordinances and their enforcement.
The August 28, 2022 “Incident”
Although the records of the Iriarte-Moore case are now sealed, I had previously seen a copy of the police incident report and narrative that accompanied their arrest summonses, issued on September 6, 2022. That narrative, as best I can determine, is identical to the one issued to Ms. Zarriello with the arrest summons #22-74-AR for her violation of the animal control ordinance. I have a copy of that narrative, which was among records provided to me by the Little Compton Police Department in response to my Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request for public records pertaining to Ms. Zarriello’s recent and previous violations of those ordinances. A copy of that report for Incident #22-344-OF and the narrative accompanying it are included further below (and in somewhat more legible form at this link). The narrative appears to be based primarily on recorded police interviews with Andrew, Raul, Ms. Zarriello, and two other witnesses who observed one of the series of events occurring that late August day.
Incident Report #22-344-OF
The “Incident Report” for Incident #22-344-OF documents the investigation and charges issued following the August 28, 2022 events involving the Iriarte-Moores and Ms. Zarriello, who are all listed as “Suspects,” and Catriona and Roland St. George, who are each identified as a “Witness” to some of the events. Ms. Zarriello is also listed as a “Victim.” The report identifies its compilers as Sergeant Ryan LeClaire (“Reporting Officer”), Corporal Caitlin Farrar (“Assisting Officer”), and Detective/Sergeant Patrick Martin (“Approving Officer”).
Below: Copy of 2-page “Incident Report” issued by the Little Compton Police Department for Incident #22-344-OF, which occurred on August 28, 2022.
[NOTE: Andrew and Raul share the same surname, “Iriarte-Moore.” However, throughout the police department incident report and narrative they are referred to, respectively, as Andrew Moore and Raul Iriarte-Moore. I use those names hereafter in my summary and description of those police documents.]
The “Offenses” listed in the report for three individuals include:
For Andrew Moore: “Disorderly Conduct,” a criminal misdemeanor under Section 11-45-1 (a) of the Rhode Island General Laws, with maximum penalties of a $500 fine and imprisonment for “not more than six (6) months.” The disorderly conduct statute encompasses a wide and diverse variety of acts, each subject to interpretation, which may offer police officers considerable discretion in deciding whether to file charges. The law under which Andrew was charged provides that:
A person commits disorderly conduct if he or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
(1) Engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior;
(2) In a public place or near a private residence that he or she has no right to occupy, disturbs another person by making loud and unreasonable noise which under the circumstances would disturb a person of average sensibilities;
(3) Directs at another person in a public place offensive words which are likely to provoke a violent reaction on the part of the average person so addressed;
(4) Alone or with others, obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, building entrance, elevator, aisle, stairway, or hallway to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access or any other place ordinarily used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances;
(5) Engages in conduct which obstructs or interferes physically with a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering;
(6) Enters upon the property of another and for a lascivious purpose looks into an occupied dwelling or other building on the property through a window or other opening; or
(7) Who without the knowledge or consent of the individual, looks for a lascivious purpose through a window, or any other opening into an area in which another would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including, but not limited to, a restroom, locker room, shower, changing room, dressing room, bedroom, or any other such private area, notwithstanding any property rights the individual may have in the location in which the private area is located.
For Raul Iriarte-Moore: The same Disorderly Conduct charge pursuant to RIGL Sec. 11-45-1 (a), as well as a charge for “Simple Assault and/or Battery,” pursuant to RIGL Sec. 11-5-3 (a), which imposes additional and stiffer penalties, including imprisonment “not exceeding one year,” or a fine “not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both.” In the case of the simple assault and battery charge against Raul, the report includes the notation “Weapon/Forced [sic] Used.”
The state statute pertaining to simple assault and battery does not really include a description or definition of the specific acts that may constitute those crimes, as is the case with the disorderly conduct statute. However, the nature of the crime of simple assault and battery appears to be well established by practice and precedent in Rhode Island law. Lawyers who represent clients charged with such crimes offer similar explanations of the statute’s scope and distinctions. To offer just one example, from a Rhode Island defense lawyer’s website:
Today, the terms “assault” and “battery” are often used interchangeably; however, these terms actually differ in meaning. An assault is either an attempted or threatened battery. By contrast, a battery is a completed assault and involves actual contact. . . . In Rhode Island, an assault is an intentional act that places another individual in fear of imminent harm or danger. It is important to note that assault does not require physical contact between individuals. . . . [A] battery involves the intentional touching of another individual without his or her consent that is offensive or results in bodily injury.
For Karen Zarriello: The incident report, under the heading “Offenses(s),” lists the charge against Ms. Zarriello as “Animals at Large–Third Offense.” That report, at least in my reading of it, is confusing about the specific town ordinance Ms. Zarriello has violated–and not just in August 2022, but on several occasions before, in 2020 and 2013. The confusion may arise partly from the Police Department’s practices for enforcing the town’s animal control ordinances, comprising Chapter 4 (“Animal Control) of the Town Code, which are arguably confusing, out-of-date, and inadequate. As noted previously, I will address issues about current animal-control ordinances and their enforcement in a subsequent post.
The “Narrative for Sergeant Ryan C. LeClaire”
The “Narrative for Sergeant Ryan C. LeClaire” accompanies the “Incident Report” for Incident #22-344-OF. Readers of the narrative can make their own judgments about what in fact happened on August 28. I attempt here my own summary of and commentary on that narrative’s findings, from what I readily admit is a skeptical perspective. In any event, I include below the report’s full accounts of the police interviews with all five people who participated in or witnessed the August 28 events.
The incident narrative, written by Sgt. LeClaire, summarizes the interviews of the five individuals involved in the August 28 events. The interviews took place at Little Compton police headquarters and were all taped by audio and video means. Sgt. LeClaire’s accounts of his interviews with Andrew Moore, Raul Iriarte-Moore, and Karen Zarriello–each of whom faced potential charges for violations of state law or town ordinance–documented that he read each “the rights and waiver form,” stated that they understood the form, signed it, “and agreed to speak with me.” Thus, none of the interviewees were represented at the time by their own legal counsel. The interviews were conducted on August 30 and 31, several days after the event, in the following order: Karen Zarriello, Catriona and Roland St. George (apparently interviewed together), Andrew Moore, and Raul Iriarte Moore.
As a prelude to the interview accounts, Sgt. LeClaire sets the scene: The story begins “at approximately 1936 hours” (7:36 p.m.) on August 28, when Andrew Moore called the police department “reporting two loose dogs in Oak Forest.” Sgt. LeClaire notes that he “responded and checked the area but did not observe any loose dogs.”
“At approximately 2003 hours” (8:03 p.m.), not even a half hour after Moore’s initial call, Karen Zarriello phoned the police department, “requesting to speak to an officer.” Sgt. LeClaire took the call. Ms. Zarriello told him “that earlier on this date she was walking her three dogs on Watson Way when she was involved in a disturbance with ‘a hispanic male’ and a ‘white male’ who she believes last name is Moore and the two are ‘partners.'” She told LeClaire that she wanted to “file a formal complaint” two days later “due to her being out of town until then.” LeClaire “then contacted Moore via telephone who confirmed that he and his husband, Raul Iriarte Moore, were involved in the disturbance with Zarriello.” Andrew said he and Raul “would respond to police headquarters on 8/31/2022 to speak with me [LeClaire] regarding the disturbance.”
Ms. Zarriello was the first to be interviewed by Sgt. LeClaire and Corporal Farrar, on August 30. I include here LeClaire’s complete account of that interview:
Zarriello stated that on 08/28/2022 between 1900 – 1915 hours [7 to 7:15 p.m.] she was walking her three dogs (Cashew, Trebek, and Ninja) on Watson Way. At this time she observed a male who she identified as Iriarte Moore ‘walking backwards’ towards her. One of her dogs (Trebek) ran up to Iriarte Moore and he started yelling “Get it away from [sic], Get out of here” and Zarriello called her dog back. Zarriello stated that her dog did not run up to Iriarte Moore in an aggressive manner nor was he barking. Zarriello then began to walk away from Iriarte Moore when he began to “chase after me with something in a pressured can”. Zarriello stated that the bottle made a pressurized sound and it appeared to have a liquid coming out of it. I questioned Zarriello if it appeared Moore was pointing the bottle at her in attempt to spray her with the liquid to which she stated “Yes.” Zarriello stated that the liquid never did contact her though. I questioned Zarriello if she felt threatened by Iriarte Moore to which she stated “Yes”.
Zarriello stated that she then walked away with her dogs from Iriarte Moore through a path that extends from Watson Way to Queen Awashank [sic] Trail. While walking on Queen Awashank Trail she was greeted by Catriona St. George and her husband Roland St. George who were also walking their dog. While speaking with the St. George’s she observed a [sic] older Mercedes-Benz sedan, yellow in color drive down the path and onto Queen Awashank Trail towards her. The vehicle stopped at her and she observed the operator to be Andrew Moore. Zarriello stated that Moore remained in his vehicle, took out his cell phone, and started taking pictures of her dogs stating repeatedly “Those dogs need to be on leashes”. I questioned Zarriello if she felt Moore purposely followed her to which she stated “Yes”. Zarriello stated that Moore then drove away from her. Zarriello stated that the St. George’s observed the interaction between her and Moore.
Once Moore drove away Zarriello began to walk home to her residence on Patchet Brook Drive when she observed a Volvo station wagon, silver in color driving towards hers. As the vehicle passed her she observed the operator to be Iriarte Moore. Zarriello stated that Iriarte Moore did not stop the vehicle and did not say anything to her. When Zarriello returned to her residence she contacted headquarters because she was upset and felt “unsafe” from her interactions with Moore and Iriarte-Moore. I questioned Zarriello if probable cause was found to charge Iriarte Moore with simple assault/battery would she wish to press charges to which she stated “Yea” [sic]. The interview was then concluded and Zarriello cleared headquarters.
Later that day, Sgt. LeClaire and Corporal Farrar interviewed Catriona St. George and Roland St. George at police headquarters. The St. Georges had both been identified by Ms. Zarriello as witnesses to her encounter with Andrew Moore. Here is Sgt. LeClaire’s complete account of that interview:
Roland stated that on 08/28/2002 he was walking his dog with Catriona when they were greeted by Zarriello who was walking her three dogs on Queen Awashank Trail. While speaking with Zarriello they observed a Mercedes-Benz sedan, yellow in color drive through the walking path that extends from Watson Way to Queen Awashank Trail with its lights off. Catriona stated this upset her because she thought it was very dangerous due to children riding their bikes and walking down that path. The vehicle then turned its light on and drove up to them and Zarriello where they identified the operator to be Andrew Moore. Roland stated that he heard Moore tell Zarriello that her dogs were “at large” and began to take photos of Zarriello and her dogs with his camera phone. Roland stated that when Moore was speaking to Zarriello it “wasn’t civil” and he wasn’t having a neighborly conversation. Catriona stated that Zarriello appeared to be very upset with the interaction between her and Moore. I questioned the St. George’s if it appeared that Moore was following Zarriello to which they stated “Yes”. They stated that Moore then drove away and Zarriello returned to her residence with her dogs. Catriona provided me with a short video she captured with her camera phone of the interaction. I [Sgt. LeClaire] viewed the footage which shows an older Mercedes-Benz sedan, yellow in color being operated by a male who I identified as Moore (The video is attached to this report.) The interview was then concluded and the St. George’s cleared headquarters.
The next day, August 31, Sgt. LeClaire and Corporal Farrar interviewed Andrew Moore at police headquarters. Here’s Sgt. LeClair’s complete account of that interview:
Moore stated that on 08/28/2022 at approximately 1920 hours he was outside in his driveway at 4 Watson Way when Iriarte Moore entered the driveway after placing a campaign sign on their property along Watson Way. Iriarte Moore stated to Moore that a dog came up to him and “startled him” so he “screamed”. Iriarte Moore stated that he then turned around and observed a woman there (Zarriello). Moore stated he thought it was “weird” that he did not know Zarriello or the dogs so he went to go see who she was/introduce himself and ask her to keep her dogs on a leash. Moore stated that he left his residence and drove his yellow Mercedes-Benz through Oak Forest Drive, the onto Patchet Brook Drive, and then Queen Awashank Trail where he observed Zarriello talking with another couple. Moore stated that he drove up to Zarriello, stopped, and spoke to Zarriello. Moore stated that while seated in his vehicle he used his camera phone to video tape the interaction while telling Zarriello that she must keep her dogs on a leash. Moore showed us the video he captured on his camera phone which showed the interaction between he and Zarriello. Moore stated that the interaction with Zarriello was “a little hostile”. I questioned Moore if he drove through the path from Watson Way to Queen Awashonk Trail to which he stated “No”. I questioned Moore if Iriarte Moore followed Zarriello in another vehicle to which he stated “No”. The interview was then concluded and Moore cleared headquarters.
Finally, later that day, August 31, Sgt. LeClaire and Corporal Farrar interviewed Raul Iriarte Moore at police headquarters. Here is LeClaire’s complete account of that interview:
Iriarte Moore stated that on 08/28/2022 he was putting a sign on his property on Watson Way and he was walking backwards to look at his sign. While walking backwards a dog (Trebek) “charged” at him which caused him to “scream like a girl” because he was “terrified”. Iriarte Moore said he told Zarriello to get out of here because her dogs were loose. Iriarte Moore stated that Zarriello stated to him “I know who you are”. Iriarte Moore stated that Zarriello was following him towards his residence which was in the same direction as the path from Watson Way to Queen Awashonk Trail. Iriarte Moore stated that he had a water bottle in his hand and squirted it but it was not at Zarriello or the dogs. Iriarte Moore stated that after the interaction with Zarriello he advised Moore of what took place and that is when Moore went to go look for Zarriello. I questioned Iriarte Moore if he left his house after the incident to which he stated “No”. The interview was then concluded and Iriarte Moore cleared headquarters.
“After speaking with all the involved individuals it has been determined that probable cause exists to charge the following,” the narrative concludes, listing the respective charges against Karen Zarriello (“Animals at large-Third Offense”), Andrew Moore (“Disorderly Conduct”), and Raul Iriarte Moore (“Disorderly Conduct, Simple Assault/Battery”).
Below: Copy of “Narrative for Sergeant Ryan C. LeClaire,” for Little Compton Police Department Incident #22-344-OF
Whatever the responsibility, if any, the Iriarte-Moores and Zarriello shared as a result of the August 28 incident, the potential legal consequences of the charges files against the three individuals differed considerably. Ms. Zarriello was charged with violating a town ordinance. The Police Chief issued her a summons to pay the town a fine of $25, the penalty for a third violation of the animal control ordinance, which Sgt. LeClaire served on Ms. Zarriello on September 6. “I explained the payment/court options to Zarriello who stated that she understood,” LeClaire reported. Under the provisions of the ordinance and the summons, she was ordered to appear in District Court on October 14 if she contested or failed to pay the fine. The Town Finance Director told me that she did pay the fine in timely matter. Her case was concluded. Andrew Iriarte-Moore’s August 28 evening phone complaint to the Little Compton Police Department about loose dogs in his neighborhood had been substantiated by the police.
The potential legal consequences of the charges filed against them were quite different for Andrew and Raul. As noted, the penalty for disorderly conduct, a law for which both men were cited, could involve a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment for up to six months. The additional charge of simple assault/battery faced by Raul called for an additional fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to a year. It is my understanding that first offenders of these laws are not typically subject to severe or maximum penalties. However, the prospect of such consequences no doubt caused anxiety for both men.
If nothing else, their legal defense also cost money. Their experienced defense lawyer, Ferenc Karoly, of the Providence firm Lynch & Pine, had previously served as a police officer, including a stint as acting chief of the Middletown Police Department. Karoly represented Andrew and Raul at four court hearings, before three different District Court judges.
It can be sobering to observe the routine proceedings of District Court, as fellow Rhode Islanders of many backgrounds face the potential consequences of their actions and decisions. It is impossible not to contemplate the arbitrary and unexpected circumstances that might find any of us in court facing charges ourselves.
At the October 14, 2022 arraignment of Andrew and Raul, which I attended, the case was presented to Judge Madeline Quirk by Sgt. LeClaire, who offered a very brief summary of his narrative. While Town Solicitor Richard Humphrey was in the courtroom that day, he did not present the case and talked only briefly with Sgt. LeClaire. The business that day involved introduction of pleas by Andrew and Raul, their release on personal recognizance, and the scheduling of a subsequent pre-trial hearing. As it happened, considerable time passed before for the town secured an attorney, Matthew Chappell of Portsmouth, to represent the police in the case. Mr. Humphrey, who represents and is appointed by the Town Council on which Andrew Iriarte-Moore then (and now) serves, apparently recused himself from representing the police department in the case.
A December 2, 2022 pre-trial hearing before Judge Melissa DuBose was brief. No attorney was present that day for the town. A scheduled January 6, 2023 pre-trial hearing was postponed. At a pre-trial hearing on January 20, 2023, more than four months after Andrew and Raul were charged, attorney Chappell did appear in court on behalf of the Little Compton Police Department. By this time, however, attorneys Karoly and Chappell had apparently been making some progress towards a resolution of the case. Judge Trezvant, now presiding over the case in a manner somewhat more brisk, and perhaps more brusque, than his predecessors Quirk and DuBose, scheduled another hearing for February 3, 2023. In comments directed to Andrew (Raul was not in court on January 20), Trezvant described the proceeding as the “final pre-trial hearing.” The implication, as I interpreted his somewhat cryptic and ominous remarks, was that he expected the parties to settle the case prior to a trial. “I’m going to take this off my calendar very soon,” he announced.
The final disposition of the case on February 3 was brief. In fact, attorney Karoly told his clients Andrew and Raul that they were free to leave the courtroom that day before the judge announced that their case was being dismissed. Later that morning, he texted Andrew to inform him that the judge had also ordered sealing the record of their case.
Questions and Comments
The police case against the Iriarte-Moores thus disappears. On the other hand, Ms. Zarriello paid her $25 fine–the maximum provided by state law and the town code–for her third violation of the town “animals at large” ordinance. This outcome appears to reflect how and where the incidents actually occurred and ensued, as documented by the police department itself. It represents a form of partial justice, if achieved over months of time, at considerable expense, aggravation, and anxiety for Andrew and Raul Iriarte-Moore.
The Little Compton Police Department (LCPD) was obligated to take seriously the telephone calls and complaints made by Andrew Iriarte-Moore and Karen Zarriello within an hour of their encounter on August 28, 2022. Those complaints deserved to be investigated. As a result, the police made a determination to charge the Iriarte-Moores and Zarriello with various infractions. The respective outcomes for each of them played out and were resolved as I have described and documented.
It can’t be ignored, though, that the charges filed against the Iriarte-Moores occurred against the background of several recent or ongoing public, political, and at times controversial events in which they were both involved. First, Andrew was a Democratic candidate for re-election to the Little Compton Town Council at the time of the August 28 incident and when the LCPD files charges against him a week later. In 2022, he and Patrick McHugh were the only Democratic candidates for election to the Council, vying for five open seats against five Republicans, including incumbents Robert Mushen, Gary Mataronas, and Paul Golembeske (who were all re-elected) and two new candidates, Maureen Rego and David Beauchemin. Two independent candidates, Polly Allen and Mikel Folcarelli, also ran for Town Council. As it happened the three Republicans and Patrick McHugh were re-elected, and Andrew was re-elected by a handful of votes over Ms. Rego, in a race decided by a recount before the Board of Elections.
Earlier in the year, Andrew had voted along with Mr. McHugh to fly the Pride flag for one day at Town Hall, in recognition and support of LGBQT+ residents and concerns. Andrew’s husband Raul is one of the leaders of Love Wins Coastal, the local group that requested the Pride flag be flown at Little Compton Town Hall, along with the American flag, on the June Pride Day celebration the group has sponsored at the Commons for the last several years. (This year’s celebration will take place on Saturday, June 3.) The three Republican Council members at a tense May 19, 2022 meeting voted not to fly the Pride flag that June. A year earlier, in the absence of Mr. Mushen, the other four Council members had voted to fly the Pride flag, while considering adoption of a new policy for flying flags on Town property. As it happened, the Council did not and has not adopted a formal, written flag policy. Rather, at the May 19 meeting at which the Council voted not to fly the flag, Mr. Mushen announced what he called a “consensus” that citizens had expressed unanimous support for flying only the U.S. and Rhode Island official flags at Town Hall. This supposed “consensus” was immediately belied by the fact that the Council itself, as demonstrated by its divided vote, could not reach a consensus on whether or not to fly the Pride flag.
UpriseRI, an online news site with a progressive/liberal/left bent (choose your label), published an extensive May 23, 2022 story about the Pride flag controversy and the Town Council vote several days earlier. “After the vote, Council President Mushen delivered a defense of his actions in a speech tinged with white Christian nationalism,” in the opinion of UpriseRI correspondent Steven Ahlquist, who transcribed Mr. Mushen’s comments as follows:
“When we stood just a few minutes ago to pledge allegiance, we spoke of the allegiance that we are pledging to the country [and] by extension, the town,” said Council President Mushen. “And then we say, ‘under God.’ And we say that because we’re acknowledging that there’s some power that’s greater than we are that is guiding our attitudes.
“And a person is free, obviously, to say, ‘I don’t believe that,’ but that’s what we’re pledging. And then we say it’s indivisible. Nothing divides us. So it’s our obligation, it seems to me, to make sure that nothing divides us.
“Finally, it’s liberty and justice for all – not for some – it’s for all. So therefore we are saying, publicly, that’s what we believe and that’s why we believe it.”
I remember the moment vividly. At the meeting I had offered the comment and asked the question that immediately preceded Mr. Mushen’s response. His comments, which can be viewed in the YouTube excerpt embedded in the UpriseRI story, were more intense and impassioned than any I had previously heard during the two years I served with him on the Town Council. Viewers of the video can judge for themselves whether the logic and language of Mr. Mushen’s comments were consistent with his vote and those of his fellow Council member Mataronas and Golembeske to oppose flying the Pride flag at Town Hall for a day.
The members of the Little Compton Police Department are of course not responsible for the opinions and actions of Town Council members acting in their political capacity. But some town citizens may wonder whether those opinions and actions may influence the law enforcement officers who serve under the Town Council’s authority. The town’s top elected official is not acting in a vacuum when he pronounces, in the name of God, the American flag, and an unspecified “we,” that “Nothing divides us” and that “Finally, it’s liberty and justice for all – not for some – it’s for all”–and does so immediately after casting a vote that some town residents, including myself, regard as divisive and directly contrary to the principle of “liberty and justice for all.”
As I have previously noted, Andrew, as a member of and candidate for Town Council, did not deserve and should not receive privileged treatment from the LCPD with regard to possible violations of and enforcement of the law. At the same time, the police department possesses and can exercise considerable discretion in determining when or whether to file formal charges against citizens, especially for infractions that do not entail property damage, personal injury or harm, or a serious threat to any individual. As also noted previously, the state’s disorderly conduct and simple assault/battery statutes offer considerable room for interpretation regarding the threshold for filing criminal charges. As Judge Madeline Quirk told the Iriarte-Moore’s lawyer at the October 14, 2022 arraignment hearing for his clients, “My experience is that disorderly conduct can take many forms.”
Moreover, members of the Little Compton Police Department, by the standards of the department’s own rule and regulations included in the Town Code (Sec. 16-1.3 d. 3.), are bound by a positive obligation that “[a]ll actions which could even give the impression that a member or employee is using his or her official position to influence the electoral process are to be avoided.” The full text of that section, titled “Political Activities,” reads as follows:
A member of the force shall not engage in political activity in behalf of, or against, any candidate or political question. While on duty, a civilian employee of the Department shall not engage in political activity or discussion on behalf of, or against, any candidate or political question. All actions which could even give the impression that a member or employee is using his or her official position to influence the electoral process are to be avoided. Members and employees who become candidates for salaried elective office shall take a leave of absence without pay. Such leave shall encompass both the campaign and the tenure of office, if elected.
Nothing contained in this regulation shall be construed to mean that a member or employee of the Department is prohibited from exercising his or her legal voting rights.
I do not contend that any member or members of the Little Compton Police Department, by filing criminal charges against Andrew Moore-Iriarte and his husband Raul in the weeks before an election, intentionally used their official positions “to influence the political process” or to engage in political activity.” However, I do believe that the police’s own account of the August 28 events, and the inconsistencies documented within that account, raise questions about the justification for the charges filed against the two men.
The whole chain events that occurred on August 28 began, according to the accounts of both parties, when Ms. Zarriello, walking her three unrestrained dogs almost a half mile from her home, surprised Raul Iriarte-Moore from behind adjacent to or on his own property. At that point, the situation escalated. As the police subsequently determined and charged, however, she was then in violation of the town’s animal control ordinance.
Questions that occur to me after reviewing the police documents I have seen and observing the court hearings, which never involved a public trial or presentation of evidence, include these:
- Did the dog “incident” really call for the filing of criminal misdemeanor charges against Andrew and Raul Iriarte-Moore?
- Besides the three police officers who signed the incident report, were any other members of the police department or any other town officials consulted about that decision?
- Did the police department seek or receive any guidance from an attorney, either the Town Solicitor or otherwise, before presenting the charges in District Court?
- If so, what attorney did so?
- If not, did the police, including the officers involved and/or the chief or deputy chief, engage in any discussion among themselves about the necessity or justification for bringing criminal charges against a sitting Town Council member during an ongoing contested election for that office?
- Is it customary policy for the police to interview two witnesses simultaneously, as was the case with the St. Georges?
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At the time the charges were filed, I was apparently not alone in wondering whether Andrew’s political position and Raul’s outspoken advocacy on behalf of Love Wins played a role in the LCPD’s decision to file the charges they did when they did. Little Compton resident Dennis Almeida (with whom I’m acquainted) wrote a blistering letter to the Sakonnet Times (October 27, 2022), taking the newspaper to task for what he characterized as its unbalanced, sensationalist, and repeated front-page coverage of the August 28 incident. “My political sense of smell might need to be calibrated,” Almeida wrote, “yet running such an article, highlighted with photograph [of Andrew Iriarte-Moore], on the front page, during an ongoing election does not pass the smell test.”
Andrew eventually prevailed in the November 8 general election, by a mere five votes. It would be naive to believe that the legal cloud that hung over his campaign as of election day did not cost him votes. As it was, the recount that took place, to which both he and Ms. Rego were entitled by state law, entailed additional legal expense for him (and possibly Ms. Rego as well).
As a condition of the dismissal of the case, Andrew and Raul agreed to make a donation to a charity of their choice. “We are grateful to live in a country where justice can still eventuate, although it is not the case for all,” Andrew later told the Sakonnet Times.
“We were happy to put this ordeal to rest and ensure that the taxpayers didn’t encumber any further expenses. Raúl and I were glad to make a contribution to Love Wins Coastal to support the work they do to help LGBTQ members of our community, often some of the most marginalized and at-risk folks.”
They may also have taken some satisfaction in providing funds to that important cause rather than for continuing legal fees, however effective and efficient attorney Karoly’s representation had been.
As far as I know, the Little Compton Police Department has offered no public comment on the outcome of the case. ♦
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[NOTE: As previously noted, in a subsequent post I will also discuss how town officials have responded, or failed to respond, to the pleas from Mr. O’Dell and some of his Oak Forest neighbors, in 2020 and again this year, for those officials to reform the town’s animal control ordinances and to ensure their consistent enforcement.]