Who is the R.I. Certified Constables’ Board serving?

Complaints against constables are stacking up, leaving the public and at least one constable in limbo. An ADA lawsuit hints at other problems.

By: - Monday November 20, 2023 5:00 am

Who is the R.I. Certified Constables’ Board serving?

Complaints against constables are stacking up, leaving the public and at least one constable in limbo. An ADA lawsuit hints at other problems.

By: - 5:00 am

Rhode Island Constable Ken Vieira is shown in his attorney Megan Sheehan’s Barrington office. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

Rhode Island Constable Ken Vieira is shown in his attorney Megan Sheehan’s Barrington office. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

The woman on the other end of the line wanted Ken Vieira to interview her boyfriend who was in maximum security at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, but she was evasive when he tried to ask her questions.

Vieira, a Barrington private investigator and Rhode Island constable, grew frustrated and  eventually hung up on her.

That led to a complaint filed against him on June 21 with the state’s Certified Constables’ Board, which reviews licenses in an advisory role for the Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Until 2015, Rhode Island constables were overseen by the District Court.

The complaint was one of three against Vieira within the last year. All of them have yet to be heard by the board.

Why? Because two vacancies on the five-member board — one of them has been empty for two years — left it unable to reach a quorum for four of its eight scheduled meetings so far this year. The canceled meetings have left Vieira in professional limbo.

Those three complaints against Vieira, one from 2022 and two from 2023, remain pending, along with 11 more involving other constables. Vieira’s constable license is up for renewal in 2025.

“It’s giving me anxiety,” said Vieira, who has been a constable since 2008. “It’s just been lurking there in the rear.”

It’s not the only thing troubling Vieira about his livelihood. He has filed a lawsuit against DBR and the association that manages training for constables for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Left to right, Certified Constables’ Board members Kenneth Norigian, Bruce Thibodeau, and Chairman Murray Gereboff at the panel’s meeting at the Department of Business Regulation in Cranston on Oct. 25, 2023. Norigian is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Constable Ken Vieira. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

‘Nobody likes being served’

In some states, constables can act in a law enforcement role and can make arrests. Constables in other New England states are managed at the local level, leaving Rhode Island alone in making its state agency responsible for business regulation oversee constables.  

In Rhode Island, a constable’s job is to be the messenger of bad news. They serve people with legal paperwork for evictions, child custody cases, divorces, debt collections or subpoenas. Most like to keep a low profile, to get in, get the job done and get out without any problems. 

But constables can be the target of complaints, either from the party they serve or the party that hires them.

“It comes with the territory,” said the gravelly-voiced Vieira, 57. “Nobody likes being served.”

Most complaints against constables tend to be frivolous in nature, according to several active and retired constables interviewed. They include John Esposito and his wife Paula Pecchia-Esposito, who retired from constable work in 2019 and live in Murphy, North Carolina. Esposito was president of the Rhode Island Independent Constables Association between 2010 and 2013. Pecchia-Esposito was an association board member in 2013.

Esposito said there were five complaints filed against him in his 40 years of being a constable. They were all dismissed. Pecchia-Esposito said she had none in her 20 years. 

“Common sense would say you’re going to lash out at anything that has to do with your wife — that would be me serving you papers,” Esposito said. “You don’t see me, you see your wife.”

“Considering it’s your livelihood, any complaint is a bad complaint,” Pecchia-Esposito said.

No deadlines to investigate complaints

Vieira can handle unpopularity, as is evident by the New York Yankees tattoo on his left forearm despite having been born and raised in Red Sox territory. His father and grandfather were Yankees fans too, he said.

Vieira’s major client for the past 13 years has been the Rhode Island Office of Child Support Services, which hires him to serve papers in 10 communities.

Since constable jurisdiction was transferred from the District Court to DBR in 2015, Vieira has had a total of six complaints filed against him, DBR spokesperson Matthew Touchette said. He could not provide details on the outcome.

(*Year to Date is Jan. 1-Nov. 14, 2023. SOURCE: Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation)

Since 2016, 65 complaints were filed against constables, with 13 so far in 2023, said DBR Associate Director Securities and Commercial Licensing Don DeFedele. He revealed the statistics at a constable training seminar held Nov. 14 at the Alpine Country Club in Cranston.

Vieira shared copies of the three pending complaints against him with Rhode Island Current. On Dec. 20, 2022, a woman filed a complaint claiming he failed to serve paperwork to her estranged husband in East Providence in a child support case for over a year. 

“The guy continuously stonewalled me and evaded service,” Vieira said.

Then on May 17, 2023, in another child support case, a Massachusetts woman contracted him to serve papers to her estranged husband in Rhode Island. 

“The State of Rhode Island Child Support made an error and canceled the case by mistake,” Vieira told Rhode Island Current. “So the case had to be reprocessed, and I couldn’t get to him.”

Under state law, constables have 10 days to respond when complaints are filed. The law sets no deadline for the Certified Constables’ Board to evaluate alleged misconduct.

The first board vacancy occurred in December 2021 after board member Tiffany Antoch accepted a job as managing attorney at Rhode Island Legal Services. She said her new job prevented her from serving on a state or quasi-government board.

The second seat became vacant after the death of board Vice Chair Ronald Russo, who died on May 11, 2023, at the age of 76. Russo was one of the founding members of the Rhode Island Independent Constables Association in 1992. He served as its president from 1995 through 2013.

The Department of Business Regulations’ Cranston office. Its ground floor conference room is where the state’s Certified Constables’ Board meets. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

What the law requires

The law requires constables to take 10 hours of continuing education every two years in order to maintain their license, along with a biannual fee of $400. Training is provided at seminars organized by the Rhode Island Independent Constables Association, which lists its purpose as “for the betterment and education of its members” in its annual report to the Secretary of State.

Training for the state’s 100 licensed constables is approved by the Certified Constables’ Board, with advance notice on courses given to DBR.

The association is led by its president, Kenneth K. Norigian, a constable who also serves on the Certified Constables’ Board. His sons, Kenneth R. and Kyle, serve on the association’s board of directors.

Vieira admits that he and Norigian do not get along and claims he’s been shunned for speaking his mind about the way the association is run — especially since the pandemic.

“His exact words were, ‘I’m kicking you out of this association and I’ll see to it you don’t get your certificate to renew your license,’” Vieira recalled.

Norigian declined to comment for this story.

Pecchia-Esposito said she was aware there was tension between the two Kens.

“Ken Vieira is a go-getter, he asks questions,” she said.

Esposito, and a half dozen other constables Rhode Island Current reached out to, said it’s not uncommon for personal grievances to get in the way of the board doing its job of addressing complaints.

“If you’re not a part of their clique, they won’t try to protect you,” Esposito said.

A monopoly on training?

Twice a year, the Rhode Island Independent Constables Association hosts in-person seminars so constables can get continuing education credits needed to maintain their license. Since the pandemic, the association has made Zoom sessions available.

There are no other options for constable training in Rhode Island, Vieira’s attorney Megan Sheehan said.

“It’s kind of like a forced participation or forced membership into this association,” Sheehan said.

Vieira attended the association’s seminar at Alpine Country Club in Cranston in November 2022. The event was held in the country club’s grand ballroom, which he said had poor acoustics due to its high ceilings, wood floors, and nearly 100 constables talking over each other. Training covered a review of constable regulations, how to interact with children and people with special needs, and the benefits of wearing a body camera.

Vieira said the audio speaker at the front of the room had bad audio quality, resulting in his hearing aids distorting the sounds. During a break in the seminar, Vieira said he asked Norigian if he could remedy this for future seminars only to be laughed off and told to move closer to the stage.

It’s kind of like a forced participation or forced membership into this association.

– Megan Sheehan, attorney for Ken Vieira

“That’s not the problem,” Vieira said. “The problem is making it handicap compliant.”

The incident is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed June 13 in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, as Vieira claims the association and DBR violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 

DBR declined to comment on Vieira’s lawsuit.

But the November 2022 seminar wasn’t the only instance in which Vieira said the Rhode Island Independent Constables Association failed to accommodate his disability. In April, he said the association held a session on Zoom, but the speakers and chat functions were disabled.

“The whole idea is to participate,” Vieira said. “Participating doesn’t mean just listening, it means interacting. They denied me that, DBR.” 

The closed captioning portion of the Zoom also did not match up to the words the people were speaking and Vieira said presenters speaking were often off screen.

When this fall’s seminar was scheduled, Vieira said he only found out about it through another constable. 

“They sent out a mass email like they always do — coincidentally my name was removed from the email,” he said. “I’ve always been getting emails. I had to get it from somebody else.”

Attorney Sonja Deyoe, who is representing Vieira in his ADA lawsuit, said the lack of other training options is harming her client.

“We need another provider,” she said.

The board discussed searching for other providers during its June 5 meeting, draft minutes show. But DBR Associate Director DeFedele “did not find a school or agency that would work for the type of training” needed by the state, the minutes said.

“The only individuals that are qualified to train other constables in Rhode Island are constables that are familiar with the law/regulations/norms in this state,” DBR spokesperson Touchette said.

The National Constables and Marshals Association, based in Shreveport, Louisiana, offers education and training programs to the profession. The association has over 300 members across 13 states. Treasurer Jonathan Ponder said no one from Rhode Island has reached out about membership in the five years since he’s been with the association.

Vieira would welcome another continuing education provider. But he said he just wants the association to treat him and any constable with a disability fairly.

“I’m tired of being discriminated against,” he said. “It’s corruption.”

Governor renews terms after inquiry

By statute, the governor makes appointments and reappointments to the Certified Constables’ Board. Terms run five years, but the 2023 list on the DBR website in October showed all three remaining members had their terms expire in 2020. Russo was also listed on the document, which was dated May 17, six days after he died.

Rhode Island Current made an inquiry with the office of Gov. Dan McKee on Oct. 27. The list was still unchanged as of Nov. 8. Then a new list of board members later appeared on DBR’s website backdated to Oct. 30 showing Norigian reappointed to another five-year term, along with board member Bruce R. Thibodeau and Chairman Murray Gereboff.

Thibodeau said in a phone call Nov. 16 that he “wasn’t aware” of his reappointment to the board. Gereboff was instructed by a DBR attorney not to speak with Rhode Island Current.

The governor appointed Brian M. Kiser, a managing attorney for Providence-based Marinosci Law Group to fill the seat vacated by Antoch. Kiser’s first meeting is scheduled for Dec. 6. He has a background in eviction law and served as a guest speaker at past constable seminars. 

Kiser said his intention is to bring “more efficiency” to operations and thoroughly evaluate which constable complaints need to be further reviewed.

“Whenever the opportunity arises where I can serve the public, I will certainly try to do that,” he said.

Constable Ken Vieira, foreground, listens to Department of Business Regulation Associate Director Don DeFedele speak during a training seminar held Nov. 14, 2023, at the Alpine Country Club in Cranston. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

No invitation, no problem

The fall 2023 constable training took place at the same Cranston country club, but in a smaller room with lower ceilings and an additional audio speaker. Vieira arrived half an hour before the start of the seminar with a Rhode Island Current reporter, who was allowed to join him inside the banquet hall as an ADA companion.

Vieira sat up front at the only table available about 8 feet from the podium. Norigian sat over in the front corner, but got up frequently over the two-hour program to check in with other constables. Several times, Norigian asked program presenters to speak louder so everyone in the room could hear them and reminded audience members to use a microphone when asking questions.

During a break in the seminar, Norigian walked by Vieira’s table and Vieira called him over to thank him.

“It’s 100 constables, but one association,” Norigian told Vieira. 

The two Kens even shook hands.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.