Felony charges against Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan have been dropped after his arrest on June 25 for operating a vehicle and carrying a weapon while intoxicated. Donovan, 43, is in the middle of serving his seventh term on the City Council.
During a phone interview Friday, Donovan said he doesn’t plan on resigning and will seek re-election next year. He also said he is working on putting the arrest behind him.
“Every day that goes by I feel a little bit better because of the support from friends and family through this journey,” Donovan said.
In an email, Donovan expressed regret of his actions. He also offered an apology. (The complete text of his letter appears on today’s editorial page.)
“I made a serious error in judgment by having dinner and several beers with friends while watching the Boston Bruins Championship game and subsequently driving home,” he wrote. “I am not happy with my decision and I am thankful that no one was hurt. I respect our judicial system and understand that a decision of that nature comes with consequences, which I have accepted…It was a major error in judgment on my part that will never happen again.”
The Warwick Police Department, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, dismissed the weapons charge, as the AG entered into a plea agreement after reviewing investigative reports. However, Donovan pled guilty to refusing a Breathalyzer test for alcohol, along with motor vehicle violations such as speeding and driving with an expired registration. He is responsible for completing a DUI education class, a three-month license suspension and $780.50 in fines and legal fees.
Donovan is also accountable for 10 hours of community service. He is looking into a few options, such as volunteering at the Shriners Hospital or the Hadde Ide Chaffee Home.
“I want to do something of value; I don’t want to do it just to get it over with,” he said.
In terms of the weapons charge, Donovan was in possession of a 9mm Ruger P95 semiautomatic handgun the night of the infraction. He said he and his wife purchased the “brand new legally owned firearm” from Post Road Guns in Cranston three months prior to his arrest after taking the proper required tests and background checks and receiving a blue card. They wanted to protect their family in the event of a home invasion. But the couple changed their minds, and Donovan planned to return it.
“Unfortunately, instead of going right to the store, I went out with friends to watch the Bruins game with the intent to return it the next day,” Donovan wrote. “I do believe it is important to note that this firearm was brand new, still in its case, never used, and no ammunition was ever bought for it. There was never any ill intent or anything nefarious surrounding this matter.”
Donovan realizes the arrest made him “look bad” but also said he knows people will support him as well as “hate” him. The fact that the felony charges were dropped seems suspicious to Car Tax Revolt leader Rob Cote. Cote believes the situation “stinks of filthy, corrupt politics.” He plans to create and distribute flyers and initiate an online petition and email campaign calling for Donovan’s resignation.
“This is clearly a cover-up,” said Cote, a Ward 7 resident. “They never assigned the felony to Superior Court, which means the AG had to consult with the Warwick Police to wash out the gun charge. They arraigned him in District Court. He pled guilty to DUI and they threw out the felony? That’s like saying, ‘If you give me your lollypop, I’ll get you a Ferrari.’ If anybody believes there wasn’t a deal made they are very, very naive.”
Cote went on to say that he finds it interesting that the initial police report lists that when Donovan was asked for his phone number he provided 401-738-2000, which is used for all city departments.
Cote also said the WPD would not have initially charged Donovan had they not thought there was significant evidence. According to a police report, Officer Jamey Petit observed Donovan’s vehicle straddling lanes and going 56 miles per hour at 12:45 a.m. on Jefferson Boulevard, a road with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
Upon pulling Donovan over, Petit noted that he “immediately detected the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from [Donovan’s] breath.” He observed that Donovan’s speech was slurred and his eyes were “extremely bloodshot and watery.” The gun was tucked under his passenger seat.
“How much more did they need to prosecute him?” Cote said. “The statute clearly says if you’re under the influence or intoxicated and in possession of a gun it’s a felony.”
Cote is referring to a Rhode Island statute that reads, “It is unlawful to carry or transport any firearm in this state when intoxicated or under the influence of intoxicating liquor or narcotic drugs.”
Instead of being issued a felony charge with jail time, Donovan received minimum sanctions, or the lowest form of punishment if charged with a DUI. For a first refusal, the offender’s license is to be suspended for six months to one year and be liable to pay a fine of $200 to $500. Additionally, they must attend a course on driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and complete 10 to 60 hours of community service. As noted, Donovan is set to take a class, complete 10 hours of community service, plus pay fines.
“I’m disgusted,” said Cote. “It just goes to show that the laws do not apply equally to the elected official as to the private citizen because there is no way any private citizen would have this dismissed. It seems that making this breech of judgment disqualifies him from representing the general public. If he was a responsible person, he would resign from office because he no longer has the confidence of residents. I’m not happy about this, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who agree.”
In response, Donovan wrote that he is conscious of the fact that people will criticize him. Still, he is choosing to focus on the future.
“I understand that there are many trials and tribulations as we go through this world with many ups and downs, and by no means do I claim to be perfect,” he wrote. “I want to promise to all who are concerned that I accept my responsibility and welcome my new role of moving forward in a positive fashion. I ask that those who judge me do so not by my ability to fail but my ability to move forward in a positive manner.”
But Cote thinks it’s an even bigger issue than Donovan realizes. During the past year, said Cote, the Democratic Party presented numerous gun bills to the AG, many of which were supported by the AG, state police, ranking Democrats and multiple municipalities throughout the state.
“The Donovan issue is a perfect example of why Rhode Island does not need any new gun laws,” he said. “Clearly, the existing guns laws are not being executed.”
Neither the Warwick Police Department nor the AG returned calls concerning this story.