After conducting an investigation of possible theft of loam (soil composed of a mixture of sand, clay, silt and organic matter) by Department of Public Works (DPW) employee Dan Conley, the Warwick Police Department (WPD) has concluded it lacks critical evidence necessary to the prosecution of the alleged crime.
As Capt. Robert Nelson stated in a recent report, police don’t have a witness, statement, video or verbal testimony identifying the person responsible for the crime, or whether or not a crime existed at all.
In an email sent to the administration, which was forwarded to the Warwick Beacon, Nelson said the matter would remain an open investigation pending further information. Unless the department receives more information and/or evidence of the theft, they will likely close the case within a six-month time frame.
“We are awaiting some soil test result, which may or may not, change the status of this case,” he wrote. “Quite frankly, there is simply not enough conclusive video showing the actual theft. And absent an actual witness who could give testimony to what was seen, there is not enough evidence [or] information to prove the elements of the crime.”
Col. Stephen McCartney agreed.
“I’m not sure that the lab tests are going to get us over the threshold of establishing probable cause that a crime was committed,” McCartney said during a brief phone interview yesterday morning. “Absent further cooperation from the public or better information that we initially received, we are falling short of probable cause, as Capt. Nelson has indicated in his report.”
The alleged theft surfaced in November when WPRI News reporter Walt Buteau contacted the police, stating his cameraman videotaped Conley stealing loam and delivering it to a home located on Cottage Grove Avenue. Nelson noted in his report that WPRI News “was less than cooperative” with police when questioned about videotape evidence but, after some “reluctance,” granted the WPD permission to view video evidence to be aired on the news.
“There is and has been no video evidence showing the transfer of city owned loam to the privately owned dump truck of Dan Conley,” Nelson wrote.
He also wrote that WPRI News personnel refused to give statements or provide any other information. The story aired Nov. 15.
The Warwick Beacon ran a story about the issue in the Nov. 22 edition, as well, reporting WPRI’s findings.
Buteau reported that he and a WPRI cameraman witnessed Conley “on multiple occasions … driving and parking a pair of privately registered trucks on city property near the compost facility on Sandy Lane. The trucks were loaded several times with what appeared to be loam, which Conley then hauled from the facility.”
They then followed Conley to the home on Cottage Grove Avenue, where George (Rob) Maddox resides, “and watched as the truck dumped the dirt in the driveway.” About an hour later, Buteau reported, the empty dump truck was parked in front of property owned by Conley.
Buteau also interviewed Conley, who repeated, “I have no comment,” but then said he was not taking loam, rather, he was taking compost, which is free.
According to Nelson’s report, DPW Acting Director David Picozzi said he doesn’t buy much loam to keep on hand because he doesn’t have the room to store it in large quantities. He also told officers he was not aware of any missing loam, and that some loam is kept in the compost area with other materials so city workers can make repairs to lawns damaged by snow plows and routine work putting in sewers and water lines.
Further, Picozzi stated that the large pile of dirt seen in the WPRI footage was removed from City Park during a field renovation and was being used to “dress up” the ball fields behind McDermott Pool.
Conley, the supervisor of the compost facility and the heavy equipment operator, owns and operates a small landscaping business in addition to his job with DPW. He spoke to detectives through his attorney, who relayed to police that he claims he did not steal the loam. Instead, Conley said he received the loam from Vineyard Road Landscaping in a bartered deal for services. No money or receipt of the transaction exists.
Following the Jan. 14 council meeting, Conley approached a Beacon reporter expressing his innocence. However, he did not want to go on the record.
The police report notes that it is estimated that the most loam that was taken was approximately four yards, with a price estimate of $20 per yard, making the total possible theft to be about $80. Under standards set by Rhode Island General Laws, Nelson wrote, the crime would be classified as a petty misdemeanor.
Based on Conley’s employment with the city, Nelson suggested a “complete and conclusive” internal investigation be conducted by the Personnel Department to determine if Conley violated any policies and procedures regarding the loam situation.
“In addition, I would suggest that at the conclusion of any investigation into the employee’s actions, a comprehensive interview should be conducted with the employee relating to his actions…” Nelson wrote. “The employee, based on his employment with a public entity, should be required to be forthcoming in all aspects of these allegations with no allowances for deception of any kind.”
If there are any changes to the factual information, the case can be re-opened at any time within the statute of limitations.