A state Superior Court judge has rekindled a former state trooper’s two-year battle to win a disability pension.
In a 38-page decision issued Friday, Judge Susan E. McGuirl ruled that state police Superintendent Col. James Manni must specifically explain why in 2019 he denied the disability pension request of James Donnelly-Taylor.
“This Court has no doubt that the superintendent has been granted broad discretion under the relevant statute and caselaw to make determinations regarding the eligibility of a state trooper for a disability pension,” McGuirl wrote. “Nevertheless, having utilized that discretion to provide Mr. Donnelly-Taylor with both a hearing and a written decision, the superintendent must also provide an adequate explanation in that decision.”
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Various aspects of Donnelly-Taylor’s case against his former employer have played out in both state and federal courts in recent years, all stemming from a 2014 incident in which Donnelly-Taylor punched a suspect, Lionel Monsanto, several times in a barracks lockup.
In May 2014, a grand jury indicted Donnelly-Taylor on simple assault. He initially pleaded no contest and said he had done so on the assurances of then state police Superintendent Stephen O’Donnell that he would be indemnified if Monsanto were to file suit.
When Monsanto indeed did file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, neither the attorney general’s office nor the state police moved to defend Donnelly-Taylor. He went out on medical leave. And the state eventually reached a $125,000 settlement with Monsanto.
Manni, who took over the state police in early 2019, fired Donnelly-Taylor at the end of that year. He said he would have done it earlier if the incident had happened while he was in charge.
Manni did provide some explanation when he denied Donnelly-Taylor’s disability pension request, according to McGuirl’s decision.
He found that “Mr. Donnelly-Taylor’s disabling stress resulted not from his arrest of Mr. Monsanto but from his assault of Mr. Monsanto and its consequent fallout.”
Furthermore, the judge wrote that Manni “went on to find that Mr. Donnelly-Taylor’s assault of Mr. Monsanto ‘was not within the scope of his duties as a Rhode Island State Trooper.’”
McGuirl has now remanded the matter back to Manni for further explanation of his denial of Donnelly-Taylor’s disability pension.
“On remand, the superintendent must produce findings of fact and law that support his decision,” McGuirl wrote.
His more detailed explanation, McGuirl wrote, must include “a sufficient rationale supporting his conclusions regarding what activities are within a state trooper’s scope of employment” and “sufficient findings of fact, either drawn from the medical testimony in evidence or explaining and justifying his disregard for such evidence, to support his determination … with respect to Mr. Donnelly-Taylor’s disabling injury.”
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI state police must explain denial of ex-trooper’s disability pension