Rhode Island

EXCLUSIVE: Former RI State Police Major Says Lt. Colonel Told Him “He Thought He Killed” a Man

Sunday 13 November 2022

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PHOTO: image

A former Rhode Island State Police (RISP) major said a lieutenant colonel told him “he thinks he killed a man ten years ago.”

GoLocal has exclusively obtained a copy of an audio recording between two former senior officers at RISP.

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The audio, recorded on Jan. 31, 2022, is a phone call between former State Police Maj. Tim Sanzi and then-Lt. Cmdr. Michael Casey.

Casey is now retired.

Sanzi called Casey to say that a decade earlier former Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin called him and admitted he believed he had killed someone.

Philbin retired in 2019 but got a RIPTA security job in August.

“I just want to tell you this … personally … and I don’t know if it’s going to help your case or whatever, but there was something I remembered — that happened and it’s that statute of limitations,” he said Sanzi on the call to Casey.

The clue to the case was that Casey had filed a whistleblower complaint against the state of Rhode Island, the state police, former Superintendent Jim Manni, and Philbin. This case is currently pending in state court.

“He hit a guy in a bar in East Greenwich. The guy fell and hit his head on the curb. He thinks he killed him.”

Speaking to Casey, Sanzi said, “I was thinking about it the other night and I was like, I can’t believe I didn’t do it… I’ve forgotten all about it, but I think it was like 2012 or 2013. It was about.” at that time as I’m sitting in my house one night and I get a freakin’ panicked call from Joe [Philbin].”

Sanzi said when Philbin called him he sounded very drunk.

“He said I have to tell you something, you can’t tell anyone — and I never did,” Sanzi told Casey. “I haven’t told anyone until now.”

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East Greenwich PHOTO: File

According to Sanzi, Philbin told him that “he hit a guy in a bar in East Greenwich. The guy fell and split his head on the curb. He thinks – he thought he killed him.”

Sanzi told Casey in the call, “Well…I’m sure it happened…I’m sure it happened.”

Sanzi said Philbin’s call happened in 2012 or 2013.

Sanzi said in the recording with Casey that Philbin told him where the incident took place.

“And [Philbin] was like, oh I left. It was like this little nut bar, he told me the bar, it was this little garbage bar down there, you go down the hill, and it’s like a little garbage bar in the neighborhood,” Sanzi said.

Casey thought the name was Elms.

Recounting his conversation with Philbin, Sanzi said, “And I was like, well, where are you now? And he said, well, I’m going home. I clean up… he goes, rescue came. He’s walking, I hit him and he’s walking, he fell and he hit his head on the damn curb.”

Sanzi added, “I said Joe … if you’re so upset about this, I think you need to do something about it. You just can’t, I don’t know if you’ll just accept it and live with it. I said but I’m not going to say anything either way, but if you ask me for advice I said you have to somehow, you know, provide help, do the right thing, because there’s always an explanation.”

“I said I was in situations where I had to defend myself… but he just kind of freaked out,” Sanzi continued in his conversation with Casey, recounting the call with Philbin.

Sanzi said in the call to Casey that Philbin called him back later that evening.

“He called me about five hours later – and he thanked me and everything. It was really freaking weird, and he thanked me to the point where he told me he called this kid ‘brownie,'” Sanzi told the hospital … and that he told him … nothing’s going to happen.”

The reference to “Brownie” was to then East Greenwich Police Officer Stephen Brown, who is now the East Greenwich Chief of Police. Brown and Philbin were close friends when they visited URI together in the late 1980s. GoLocal reached out to Brown for comment, he didn’t respond.

“I’m sure it happened,” Sanzi said. “But who the hell knows?”

“I don’t know what made me think about it. [It] was actually when I spoke to Ruggiero, and I didn’t say anything to Ruggiero. I never told anyone about it,” Sanzi said.

The “Ruggiero” that Sanzi was referring to is Al Ruggiero, a former RI State Trooper and now the North Providence Police Commissioner. The two had been to a funeral together.

Sanzi said in the recording he had never told anyone what Philbin had told him a decade earlier.

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Oaks Tavern – Outside the bar where David Heffron was found on March 22, 2012. PHOTO: GoLocal

Death at East Greenwich

GoLocal learned that Sanzi informed the Rhode Island State Police about his memory of the Philbin call and his call to Casey.

Casey looked up after the call to Sanzi whether there had been a death in East Greenwich in 2012 or 2013.

On March 22, 2012, a businessman who lived in Kingston stopped by the Oaks Tavern in East Greenwich.

The man, David Heffron, 58, was drinking in the bar that afternoon.

According to Sanzi’s conversation with Casey, the bar is located exactly where Philbin said the incident happened.

A report from East Greenwich Police said: “While Officer Branch was attempting to identify the unconscious man, later identified as Heffron, I entered the Oaks Tavern and spoke to bartender Krishna Johnson. [and] a patroness, CENSORED.”

“Both parties stated that Mr. Heffron had neither been to the Oaks Taverns nor recognized him. Later I spoke to two male parties outside the Oaks Tavern. Both male parties said they neither saw what happened nor recognized Mr. Heffron,” Officer Leif Anderson wrote in his statement in the police report.

But East Greenwich Police were later told the bartender lied.

According to Anderson, “Officer Branch and I knocked on CENSORED’s door…she explained that the Oaks Tavern clerk and patron lied to us. CENSORED states that it was commonplace for guests to leave the establishment highly intoxicated.”

When police questioned bartender Johnson’s claim that Heffron was not at the Oaks Tavern, they changed their story.

She admitted that she served him several drinks and that he fell off a stool. Johnson claimed Heffron cut his ear in a fall.

It was also revealed that the bartender actually knew Heffron, as her ex-boyfriend had worked for Heffron’s company – RI Hydraulics Co. in North Kingstown

Johnson later issued a statement that Heffron left the Oaks and fell backwards, hitting his head. She also said that no one was around him.

Heffron was rescued and taken to Kent County Hospital. He died two days later.

Philbin refutes comments in appeal

When asked for comment, Philbin denied Sanzi’s allegations.

“That’s a question I’ll take to my grave. I don’t know why he would say that. I don’t,” Philbin said when asked why he thought Sanzi would tell Casey what he did.

“Tim was my best friend, my best man at my wedding. State police investigated it… it was completely cleared, it was nothing,” Philbin said.

However, Philbin admitted that he was not questioned by state police during their internal investigation.

“They asked me and I said absolutely no,” Philbin said. “I just had enough of Mike Casey at that point.”

“I can’t comment on any of that…it’s all bullshit,” Philbin said.

Coming up: Part II

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