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2 Rhode Island government officials accused of racist and sexist behavior during trip to Philadelphia

The government officials, David Patten and James Thorsen, allegedly displayed “bizarre, offensive and unprofessional” behavior during a March 10 trip.
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Two Rhode Island government officials allegedly made racist, sexist and unprofessional remarks during a business trip to Philadelphia, officials with a development company said in an email that has been made public.

The allegations were raised by Scout Ltd., a development company contracted to redevelop an area of Providence, and accuse David Patten, Rhode Island’s director of division of capital asset management and maintenance, and James Thorsen, the now-former administration director, of displaying “bizarre, offensive and unprofessional” behavior during a March 10 trip to inspect a building in Philadelphia.

Patten was also accused of sexual harassment after he made comments about a company official’s appearance and made crude remarks about her husband being out of town, according to an email sent to administration officials.

The email was released last week by Gov. Daniel McKee’s office after the attorney general’s office said they should be made public, according to NBC affiliate WJAR of Providence. McKee’s office had previously tried to deny its release.

The allegations raised in the email sparked an investigation into Patten by the Rhode Island State Police and the human resources department, Gov. McKee said.

“While we cannot provide specific comments as the HR and RISP investigations are ongoing, the allegations regarding Mr. Patten’s behavior, if true, are disturbing, unacceptable and unfitting of anyone, especially an employee representing the state and who expects to be employed by the state,” his office said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear if an investigation had been opened into Thorsen’s behavior. In a statement Wednesday, he denied the allegations and said he "did not engage in the conduct described."

Patten has been on paid leave since March 13, according to WJAR. Thorsen left his position in April, a move that was scheduled prior to the trip, the news station reported.

Scout’s managing partner, Lindsey Scannapieco, and its director of hospitality and development, Everett Abitbol, wrote in the email that during a visit to Philadelphia’s Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center, Patten “spoke in an extremely loud tone” and asked the center’s clinical leader if he had to “swat off” women at the bar and if he had “some ethnicity” in him, the email said.

In front of patients and staff, both Patten and Thorsen allegedly “asked questions about how they treat homeless people in insensitive ways,” according to the email.

Patten and Thorsen were also taken to Diadora, an Italian sneaker and sportswear brand with a headquarters in Philadelphia. Their alleged behavior during the visit was so bad that it left the U.S. CEO of Diadora “livid” and wanting to file a public complaint, according to the email. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.

James Thorsen, the now-former Administration Director, and David Patten, Rhode Island's Director of Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.
James Thorsen, the now-former administration director, and David Patten, Rhode Island's director of division of capital asset management and maintenance.WJAR

Scannapieco and Abitbol wrote in the email that Patten was given a pair of sneakers and apparently asked if the shoes were made in China and said he hoped they were not because “I really hate China.” He then looked at an Asian staff member and said, “No offense, hun.”

Scannapieco and Abitbol said they were not with Patten at the time he made the comment but were notified “about it following an irate phone call from the U.S. CEO of Diadora, Bryan Poerner, at 5:12 pm asking us who these people were and why we would have allowed them into his space,” the email said.

The email also mentions other issues including an early-morning text requesting that fresh coffee with milk and sugar, the “best croissant in Philadelphia” and “a cold six pack” be ready upon Patten and Thorsen’s arrival.

“You have three hours to convince us to give you $55M,” a screenshot of the text message stated. The message, included in the email, ended with a winky face emoji.

Patten was also accused of commenting on Scannapieco’s appearance and asking where her husband was. He allegedly told her that it was a good thing she was married “or I would move to Philadelphia” and said, “If I knew your husband wasn’t going to be here, I would have come last night,” according to the email.

Scannapieco and Abitbol said they were shocked and embarrassed by Patten and Thorsen’s behavior and were “at an impasse for how to work with people who are so blatantly sexist, racist and unprofessional.”

In his statement, Thorsen acknowledged he was aware that Patten was “behaving strangely” but due to time constraints, he continued on with the trip. Thorsen said that while en route to the airport to leave Philadelphia, he arranged to meet with the state’s human resource department about Patten’s “conduct and his health.”

"The flight landed at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon on March 10th, and I proceeded directly to that meeting to express my concerns regarding the Director's conduct and his health," he said. "That meeting was also attended by my Chief-of-Staff. Thereafter, I provided a more detailed statement to Human Resources and, subsequently, to the Rhode Island State police regarding what I had heard and seen during the trip."

Michael Lynch, an attorney for Patten, said Tuesday that his client’s actions were the result of a mental health event “characterized by health professionals as an acute stress event that built up over time” due to the deaths of family members and his best friend.

“He did not take care of himself and sought to deal with the stressors through work — some long hours — and unfortunately, resulted in comments that were in no way part of his persona,” he said in a statement, noting that in Patten’s 30 years of work he had never had a bad review or report.

“The conduct and statements that are in that email are just not in or part of his fiber,” Lynch added.