A police chief accused of stealing $714 from a former stripper's wallet after a car chase is now facing a federal lawsuit that alleges he “violated her constitutional rights.”
The ex-stripper, Justina Cardoso, 21, filed suit on Dec. 22 claiming Col. John Whiting, 57, violated the rights protecting her from illegal searches and granting her due process. The 21-year-old Cardoso, who lives in Pawtucket, R.I. and performed at the Satin Doll strip club in Providence, is seeking $250,000 in damages from Whiting.
What’s the story behind this?
Whiting was driving to work in an unmarked police SUV on Aug. 28 when he tried to pass Cardoso’s Ford Explorer. It was raining and driving conditions were poor. Maybe it was because he “aggressively” passed her Explorer, which had slowed down to get around a fallen tree, that one of its 3 passengers decided to throw “an object at his vehicle,” the three-decade veteran of law enforcement told police.
As everyone knows, throwing something -- anything -- at another vehicle (whether it’s a marked police SUV or not) is a terrible idea.
Whiting turned on his siren lights and tried to get the Explorer to pull over. Cardoso's vehicle took off and the officer pursued.
Why didn't the Explorer pull over?
Well, perhaps it was because Cardoso "had just spent the night with a man who paid $600 for her company at a Comfort Inn" and that on her way home she had picked up two men, one of whom was driving the Explorer, according to the New York Times.
Or maybe it was because Cardoso had an outstanding warrant related to a "drug-fueled extortion plot that can only be described as idiotic, and another pending charge for the illegal possession of controlled substances allegedly found in her Coach purse," according to the Times.
So how did the chase end? The green 1999 Ford Explorer veered onto a dead-end street, ran out of road and smashed into a parked pickup truck. All three passengers in the Explorer immediately fled the scene leaving Whiting alone with the Explorer and a Coach pocketbook stuffed full of cash.
This is where Whiting made his mistake.
Cardoso's lawsuit claims Whiting illegally went through her SUV after the crash and took money from the Coach wallet she had left behind. There was a total of $714 dollars which police say she earned at the Satin Doll and from the man who paid her for "her company."
Moments after Whiting had gone through the SUV, John Brown, a veteran Pawtucket police officer, arrived at the scene. Brown immediately noticed that Whiting was nervous and "shaking."
Within just an hour, and with almost no prompting, Whiting broke down and admitted to Brown that he stole money from a pocketbook "loaded with cash" that he found inside the SUV, investigators wrote in an affidavit.
The Pawtucket officer said Whiting gave him the wad of cash and told him to spend it in Las Vegas and not discuss it. That was it. Whiting had the money in his possession for only an hour before he confessed everything and tried to bribe a fellow officer to keep quiet.
"The state police say that Chief Whiting [did] not acquit himself well in the hours and days that follow, which they say he [spent] on a cover-up," the Times reports.
They say that he tried to enlist Officer Brown and the Pawtucket police chief, Paul King, in concocting a false story about the transfer of seized evidence — a story that might, in fact, dirty up Officer Brown, who had done everything by the book.
Whiting has since been suspended without pay from his job as North Providence police chief. He turned himself in to state police in September and was charged with one count of larceny over $500 and two counts of obstruction of justice. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month to charges that he stole money and then tried to cover it up. His next court date is Feb. 16.
"He spent 29 years in the Pawtucket Police Department, where he was respected if not universally liked, earned a law degree, and won praise for his work in a case against a corrupt, politically connected police officer," writes the Times. "Finally, in 2008, he landed a prestigious police chief job, in North Providence."
But now his long and proud career has been permanently tarnished for allegedly stealing a measly $714 and trying to cover it up; adding insult to injury, he had the money for less than an hour before he practically threw it at officer Brown.
So what about Cardoso?
After the car chase, she was arrested on a warrant for an unrelated criminal matter. She pleaded no contest last month to three charges in an extortion and blackmail case and to one count of marijuana possession.
Cardoso, who the New York Times describes as a “runaway” and as being involved in the kinds of incidents that create first-name relationships with the police, was given a five-year suspended sentence in the blackmail case and a year of probation in the drug case. Defense attorney John Grasso has said she avoided jail time by getting treated for drug abuse. He also said she is pursuing a GED.
Grasso added that Cardoso stopped working at the Satin Doll after Whiting's arrest and was unable to find new work as a stripper. Her stolen earnings and SUV were returned, but Cardoso could not afford to keep the vehicle, Grasso has said.
Exit question: Do you think Cardoso's decision to seek $250,000 in damages from Col. Whiting was influenced more by her financial woes and mile-long rap sheet or by an honest belief that her rights were violated?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
[Editor's note: the original version of this article has been updated to include new details.]