1-26-02 Deputy Sheriff Gabriel Bruno of Smithfield is charged with two counts of vandalism. State police yesterday announced the arrest of a deputy sheriff who was accused of twice depositing feces in sinks in the chambers of two judges at Superior Court in Providence. Gabriel Bruno, 63, of Smithfield, turned himself in at the Lincoln barracks on Wednesday, according to Maj. Michael P. Quinn. Bruno was brought before Bail Commissioner Richard Finnegan on two counts of vandalism. Finnegan released him pending a pretrial conference Feb. 8. Finnegan set Feb. 22 as the date for his trial. Finnegan said he knew of no motive for the offenses, and said it had not been determined whether the feces was human or artificial.
To Joseph F. Rodgers Jr. , it was an evident breach of security, [example at right] requiring immediate intervention by the state police. To Gabriel Bruno, it was a harmless Christmas time prank that invoked the name of a beloved reindeer. The object of their attention was something appreciated by Rodgers's colleagues, but not by Rodgers himself.
As presiding justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court, Rodgers
outranks Bruno, a deputy sheriff. Bruno, who is a year from
retirement with what he says is an untarnished service record of 21
years, now faces trial on charges of vandalism for what he says was
a gag: He twice placed feces -- Bruno says it was fake stuff of the
joke-store variety -- in judges' chambers at the Licht Judicial
Complex. State police have declined to say whether the substance
was real or artificial.
"I'm caught between a rock and a hard place," Bruno said. "It was a joke that went bad. Everybody thought it was funny except the big boss, Judge Rodgers." Bruno was hauled before a bail commissioner last week and released pending a pretrial conference Feb. 8. He is to be tried Feb. 22 in District Court. Rodgers said yesterday that Bruno tripped himself up. When Rodgers ordered the Sheriff's Department to investigate, Bruno denied that he was the culprit, Rodgers recounted, leaving the chief judge no choice but to assume that some unauthorized person had gained access to the judges' chambers, a potentially dangerous situation. He notified the state police. An investigation by detectives followed swiftly, as did the charges.
Bruno said that despite Rodgers's contention about a denial, no one from the Sheriff's Department even asked him about the incidents. He said that when state police detectives showed up at the courthouse after the second of the Dec. 24 and Jan. 8 incidents, it was the first time he had been questioned. He said he immediately acknowledged that he had done the deed. He said the investigators at first indicated they would recommend an administrative remedy -- punishment by reprimand or suspension -- rather than press a criminal case. He said he was shocked when charges were filed against him last week. "Now it looks like I'm some kind of maniac defecating in judges' sinks," he said.
It all began, Bruno said, when someone used the toilet in Judge Joseph A. Keough Sr.'s chambers and failed to flush. [See example on right] The judge was "a little upset," Bruno said, and Bruno decided to introduce some humor to the occasion. He bought a Christmas stocking from a Pocasset Avenue costume shop that also stocks joke items. The stocking bore the name Rudolph. Inside were what Bruno called "deer pellets." He placed one of these on the seat of Judge Stephen P. Nugent's toilet. "He started yelling in a good-natured way," Bruno recalled. "We all thought it was funny, then. I actually picked it up and threw it to him. He put it in a candy dish." The folks on the bench at Superior Court, Bruno said, "are nice people -- down-to-earth people." Judge Keough, "a nice guy who could take a joke," was selected as his next target. "I put it in his sink," he said.
But Bruno said the joke backfired when Rodgers found out about it. "The next day Judge Keough sees me, and says they are calling the state police," Bruno said. "I just laughed. I thought they were kidding me." Two detectives showed up the next day at Superior Court. "I walked up to the troopers and said, 'I did this. I did it, so what? It was a joke that went bad.' I said I was willing to sign a confession." Bruno said his job history is clear. "I haven't had a speeding ticket in all my life," he said, "but here I am at 64 years old, getting ready to retire, and I have [an] arrest. This is hard on my kids, my family." Bruno said that his bid for humor was not unprecedented, that there is a culture of back-room kidding in the otherwise stern atmosphere of Superior Court. "We went into the former presiding judge's chambers and hung a Yankee pennant above his desk, because he's a Red Sox fan," he said. "He never called the state troopers. He let it hang there a week. "In this business, if you don't relax a bit you are going to break. All you see is misery down there. If you don't have a sense of humor you are not going to make it down there."
Executive High Sheriff James P. DeCastro said that Bruno will remain on duty pending an internal investigation in the Sheriff's Department. Bruno said the evidence was tossed out before the state police began their probe. "They don't have any of this stuff," he said. "I suppose I could say it was cotton candy and they'd have to believe me." Nevertheless, he said, he has already gone back to the store to buy another batch of the offending material, just to show the judge at his trial. "Maybe it was stupid. Maybe it was the wrong type of joke. But it wasn't criminal. I didn't want to hurt anybody, and everybody knows that, except a couple of guys, obviously. "I've got kids and grandchildren. If you want to call me a thief that's one thing, but to say I defecated in sinks -- that's something else. "I know it hurts my case to speak to a reporter, but I can't live with this. I would rather spend time in prison than have my name ripped around as some kind of nut like that. "I did a very stupid thing. I've been with the system a long time, and I've never seen them out to get somebody as much as me, and I can't understand that. It was a joke. I said I was awfully sorry, but other jokes have been played. Certainly I regret it happening. If I could go back, I wouldn't do it again."