Fire Captain Denies Pointing Gun At Colleague

Melissa Bailey PhotoFire Capt. Richard Rife said he never pointed a gun at a fellow firefighter at the Lombard Street firehouse—and never even had the gun that two eyewitnesses said he had.

Rife made that claim in an arrest warrant affidavit released Friday in state Superior Court on Elm Street, where he was arraigned before Judge Michael Kamp on one charge of reckless endangerment.

Rife, 49, of North Haven, has been on administrative leave since his arrest on Aug. 22; he has filed papers for retirement, according to court records.

Rife entered no plea Friday. His case was continued until Sept. 25.

The arrest warrant affidavit revealed new details about the Aug. 19 incident that led to his arrest.

Here’s what happened, according to the affidavit:

Police got a call at 9:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 19 reporting an incident at the Lombard Street firehouse in which Rife had allegedly pulled a gun while on duty.

Police Sgt. Al Vazquez and Sgt. David Zannelli interviewed Lt. Frank Ricci, the vice-president of the firefighters union, about what had happened.

Ricci told police that between 4 and 5 p.m. that day, around the time of shift change, he stopped by 412 Lombard St. to speak with a firefighter. Ricci was approached by firefighter Michael Guercia, firefighter Daniel Coughlin, and Acting Fire Captain Steven Durand. They began to chat near a car that was parked on the street outside the firehouse. Durand left and Rife joined the group; they began discussing the firefighters contract.

During the conversation, Rife “began making derogatory remarks about Durand” and called him a “coward,” Ricci told police. Rife and Durand “have a strained relationship because Durand disciplined Rife a few months ago over an argument he had with a civilian,” the affidavit reads. Ricci told Rife twice to “cut it out,” but Rife kept talking trash about Durand. Ricci told Rife to “holster your weapon”—which he intended as a figure of speech to stop speaking ill about Durand.

Rife “suddenly removed a handgun from his waistband, pointed the the gun directly at [Ricci] and placed it back inside his waistband area,” Ricci told police. Ricci told police he didn’t know Rife was packing heat at the firehouse until Ricci was staring at the barrel of the gun. Ricci described the gun as “a small, black, semiautomatic handgun, possibly small caliber.” Ricci said he was about 2 to 3 feet away from Rife at the time.

Ricci said despite having a gun pointed at him, he did not “fear for his life.” The two had not been arguing at the time; they had been discussing Durand. Ricci said he did not feel threatened. However, he was “upset that the incident occurred” because “he did not want to get shot by accident.”

Ricci didn’t immediately report the incident to police. He went home and made some union-related phone calls. Then he got a call from Durand at 6:51; Durand said he had gotten into a verbal argument with Rife at the same firehouse. “Concerned that the incident may have been more serious than he originally believed,” Ricci ultimately reported the incident to fire union President Jimmy Kottage and to Assistant Fire Chief Pat Egan.

Ricci told police that Rife has legally registered firearms and works part-time as a “pest control operator.”

In a separate interview with police, Guercia backed up Ricci’s claim that Rife pulled the gun, according to the affidavit. He told police that he “observed Rife pull out a black, semi-automatic handgun from the left side of his waistband with his left hand after Ricci told Rife to holster his weapon.”

Guercia said Rife didn’t point the gun at anyone, but brought it to waist-level and pointed it at the ground. Guercia said he “did not believe Rife was going to harm anyone” with the gun.

A third eyewitness, Coughlin, said he didn’t see the gun, but saw Rife reach to the left side of his waistband. He said he heard Ricci say, “Do you believe he just pulled his fucking gun out?”

Guercia and Coughlin both corroborated Ricci’s account that Rife had been talking trash about Durand.

In an interview with police at 10:35 p.m. that night, Rife told a different story. He said he “did not remember talking badly about Durand during their conversation.”

Rife “denied ever pointing a handgun at Ricci or having a handgun on his person” at the firehouse. Rife told police he does legally own firearms, but “never brings them to work” because that would violate department policy.

That night, about six hours after the original incident, Rife let Sgt. Vazquez search his car and locker/bunk area; Vazquez found a gun-cleaning kit in his “bunk area locker,” but no gun. Rife told police he keeps all of his guns at home in North Haven.

Police later checked records and found 10 guns registered in Rife’s name.

Rife, who has been a firefighter for over 25 years, submitted papers filing for retirement on Aug. 21, according to the affidavit.

Rife was arrested on Aug. 22. He was released on a promise to appear in court, on one special condition: that he surrender all of his guns immediately to the North Haven police.

In court Friday, Rife’s lawyer, Steven DeFrank, declined to comment on the details of the case. DeFrank said he had just received the affidavit: “I didn’t even read it yet.”

Rife “has faithfully served, protected the New Haven community as a firefighter for over 25 years,” DeFrank said.

Rife appeared in court with a woman; they left court briskly without comment, trailed by three TV cameras.

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posted by: Elm City Lifer on August 30, 2013  5:07pm

Vazquez found a gun-cleaning kit in his “bunk area locker,” but no gun.

Well how can I resist this quote “where there’s smoke there’s fire”

Another good job done by the New Haven PD. when they find scales, little bags and money counting machines in someone’s house do they stop searching because the person says I don’t have drugs here.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on August 31, 2013  1:21am

Rife “has faithfully served, protected the New Haven community as a firefighter for over 25 years,” DeFrank said.

And now he’ll collect a pension and get paid for another 25 years (or more). Not bad - work 25 years, get paid for 50.

He works part-time as a “pest control operator.” I guess you have the time to do that when you work ‘full-time’as a Fire Captain for the City of New Haven, and spend half your time getting paid to sleep on the overnight shift.

“Police later checked records and found 10 guns registered in Rife’s name” He must deal with some serious pests in his part-time gig.

Privatize the NHFD and stop dealing with these jokers.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 1, 2013  11:04am

Rife denied having a gun, but wants to hurry and retire so the taxpayers can be on the hook in the event he may get fired.

Don’t worry Rife, the Board of Commissioners will make sure you get all the money coming to you and then discipline you.

We’re still waiting for this inept board to be consistent and treat all firefighters fairly.  Because after all, they all take a chance with their life fighting fires, regardless of ethnicity.

I have absolutely no sympathy for a black firefighter who brakes the law or policies of the fire department, as do I that of a white firefighter.

If the allegations are true, Rife should be fired immediately and receive absolutely NOTHING.

Again, if the allegations are true, the idea that a firefighter can willingly bring a firearm to work without possibly notifying his supervisor, tells you a great deal about the culture in the City of New Haven’s Fire Department.