Station Nightclub Fire: How Attorney General Patrick Lynch Shielded the Guiltiest Party
[February 20, 2009 is the sixth anniversary of the fire at the Station nightclub.]
Attorney General Patrick Lynch has given two principal excuses for his refusal to prosecute Denis LaRocque, the man who repeatedly inspected the Station nightclub in his capacity as a West Warwick Fire Inspector. Let us examine them.
1.) “Without malice or bad faith, criminal capability cannot attach to fire marshals”
With these words, the Attorney General cites the two exceptions to sovereign immunity specified by Rhode Island law and the reason that he purports to believe that West Warwick Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque was not criminally responsible in the matter of the fire. To assess this conclusion, we need to review LaRocque’s actions. In carrying out his official duties with regard to the Station nightclub, did West Warwick Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque act in good faith and without malice?
During repeated inspections, he
> Failed to enforce fire safety laws for existing conditions in the club
LaRocque failed to order the abatement of the foam covering the doors, walls and ceilings – foam whose flammable qualities have been described as akin to gasoline.
> Actually violated fire safety laws himself in repeatedly increasing the occupancy level of the club
Have you noticed that public establishments post a sign announcing their legal capacity? The fire authority is required to furnish such a sign after inspecting. LaRocque did not put up such a sign at the Station nightclub; the number he had reached was so high and far-fetched, he knew he wouldn’t have been able to explain or defend his calculation.
The result of these actions and failures was devastating. The foam supplied a fast-acting fuel to Great White’s pyrotechnics. And because the Derderians, aided by Denis LaRocque, had packed far too many people in the club, once the fire had started, it was physically impossible for hundreds of people to leave in time.
Returning to the Attorney General and the two exceptions to sovereign immunity, there is no evidence that Denis LaRocque undertook his official actions out of malice. That leaves the second exception: the requirement to act in good faith. Do his deliberate and repeated failures to enforce critical fire prevention laws and his … creativity in calculating capacity constitute a lack of good faith?
That’s what a Grand Jury tried to determine.
Responding to the Grand Jury’s request for a definition of “bad faith,” after waffling, both Assistant Attorney General William Ferland and prosecutor Michael Stone provide one that incorrectly incorporates “malice,” mix in some innuendo that LaRocque might have been a volunteer firefighter, and then conclude that, in any case, “bad faith” does not apply to Denis LaRocque. (Wasn’t it the Grand Jury’s job to determine that?)
The Grand Jury also asked Denis LaRocque himself questions about the two critical matters of the foam and his calculation of capacity. Patrick Lynch’s prosecutors took it upon themselves to deflect their questions: at various points, changing the subject, calling for a break and even answering for LaRocque.
After persisting in some damn good questions, the Grand Jury finally gave up. (What else could they do in the face of such shuffling and misinformation?) Patrick Lynch’s prosecutors had successfully blocked the Grand Jury from examining Denis LaRocque as a potential guilt party.
Now to the second excuse of Attorney General Lynch.
2.) It is up to the Grand Jury to indict. My office lacks the power to indict.
And on another occasion, when asked why Fire Inspector LaRocque was not indicted, Attorney General Lynch stated, “That’s what the grand jury returned. I can only do what they say.”
These statements are completely false.
Firstly, the Attorney General refused to even submit Denis LaRocque as a defendant to the Grand Jury, saying “no reasonable person could find that LaRocque had acted in bad faith or with malice.” If it was up to the Grand Jury, why not, in fact, submit Mr. LaRocque and let the Grand Jury do their job?
Secondly, short of a capital crime, the Attorney General assuredly does have the power to indict. See page nine of this information sheet from the Web site of Rhode Island Superior Court. Patrick Lynch did not lack such a power, he deliberately chose not to exercise it.
If Denis LaRocque did not act in “bad faith,” why didn’t Patrick Lynch’s prosecutors supply a definition of the term?
If there was an innocent explanation for Mr. LaRocque’s handling of the foam and the occupancy level, why didn’t Patrick Lynch’s prosecutors let him supply it?
If Patrick Lynch disagreed with his prosecutors’ handling of the case and their “successful” steering of the Grand Jury, why didn’t he simply indict Denis LaRocque himself?
Most observers strongly suspect that Denis LaRocque is the party most responsible by far for the terrible fire of February 20, 2003. Count Rhode Island’s chief law enforcement officer decidedly among their ranks. Why else would he use all of the considerable power of his office to abstain Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque from the process of justice?