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ACLU Says Many Questions Remain Unanswered Following Police Shooting

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

 

The Rhode Island ACLU has issued its analysis of the November 9 police shooting in Providence that resulted in the death of Joseph Santos and critical injuries to Christine Demers. 

The five page report responds to information provided by Providence and State Police at separate news conferences in which they said that their officers acted properly. 

“In the absence of additional information, it would be wrong to blame the police for what they did, but it is just as inappropriate for police officials to so quickly conclude that there is no fault by police for what happened either,” said the ACLU’s analysis. 

Click here of the full analysis 

Among the issues and questions raised by the ACLU’s analysis:

THE HIGH SPEED CHASE: Little attention has been paid to the question of the propriety of the high-speed chase that ultimately led to Santos’ death. The pursuit not only endangered the motoring public, but there are questions as to whether it conformed to the high-speed pursuit policies of the Providence Police Department (PPD) and the R.I. State Police (RISP).
 
THE USE OF DEADLY FORCE: The PPD claims that the suspect, after being blocked in by police, posed “an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury” by ramming the cars in front and behind in order to get away. But, the ACLU commentary states, “this argument would seem to prove too much. The suspect was trying to get away from the police-initiated chase, not intentionally seeking to cause harm. Under the PPD’s reasoning, deadly force would therefore seem to be justified in any instance of a high-speed pursuit, even where the police chase itself was what led to the danger.”
 
The PPD high-speed policy also requires that in using lethal force, there must be a “reasonable belief” that “the lives of innocent people will not be endangered.” Did the barrage of bullets aimed at the car on the highway meet this standard?

FACTUAL QUESTIONS ABOUT INITIATING THE HIGH SPEED CHASE: It is crucial to know exactly what the police bulletin, which went out to officers and prompted the initial stop of Santos’ car, said about escapee Donald Morgan. For example, did the bulletin note that the State Police were aware that the gun in the stolen police cruiser had been recovered and that Morgan was still handcuffed? In addition, the broadcast apparently referred to the suspect white pick-up truck as a Ford F-150, but Santos’ car was an F-250. Were police looking for the wrong model of car the whole time? Answers to questions like these are important in fully evaluating the actions by the police in this case.
 
TRANSPARENCY:
 The PPD is to be commended for releasing body camera footage of the incident, but it is a cause of concern that this was done only as a matter of discretion, not policy. The PPD is also to be commended for releasing the names of the officers involved in the shooting. However, the decision by RISP to withhold all troopers’ names until an investigation is completed represents a glaring and troubling lack of transparency, and also runs afoul of the Access to Public Records Act.
 
POLICE BODY CAMERAS: Three Providence officers present for the shooting were equipped with body cameras, but only one of the cameras was activated. Was this at least partly due to the PPD’s own policy, about which the ACLU has previously expressed concerns, governing the activation of the cameras?


The analysis wraps up by saying, “we fully recognize the difficulties officers face in quick-moving situations like this. It is critical to examine the totality of the circumstances before judging the actions of the police in this case. In the absence of additional information, it would be wrong to blame the police for what they did, but it is just as inappropriate for police officials to so quickly conclude that there is no fault by police for what happened either. . . . We hope that in the coming days, the questions we have raised will be addressed and more detailed explanations about the actions taken by both the city and state police will be provided.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Demer's first name. We apologize for the error.

 

Related Slideshow: Step-by-Step How Deadly Police Shooting on I-95 Unfolded

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9:00 AM

According to multiple law enforcement sources, an unidentified Rhode Island State Trooper transporting a prisoner stopped to investigate an accident along Route 146.

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9:05 AM Estimated

The cruiser was stolen by prisoner Donald Morgan, age 35, who has no permanent address.

“The trooper was transporting the individual to court this morning and came upon an accident scene, and somewhere along those lines, again it's still being investigated, but the suspect somehow from the rear of the vehicle got into the vehicle, the front of the vehicle, and drove the cruiser,” said Rhode Island State Police Colonel Ann Assumpico.

“It's under investigation but I know the trooper did leave the vehicle for a short time,” said Assumpico.

It is unclear why the cruiser was not secured per protocol. 

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9:30 AM Estimated

The cruiser was recovered shortly afterward when it was found abandoned in Providence in front of a two-family house -- 45 Vineyard. 

It is located off of Huntington Avenue and near Route 10 on/off ramps.

When Providence Police and Rhode Island State Police found the abandoned cruiser and sources say they were told by witnesses that the perpetrator -- Morgan -- had escaped with a white pickup truck.

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10:30 AM Estimated

A video shot by Courtney Ciavarella on Route 10, shows 42 police cars and SUVs as well as 2 motorcycles on Route 10 traveling at a high rate of speed.

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9:30 AM to 10:45 AM

Hundreds of Rhode Island local and State Police fanned across the metropolitan area in search of Morgan who was thought to be traveling in a white pickup truck.

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9:30 AM to 10:45 AM

Neither Providence Public Safety nor the RI State Police used social media to inform the public on any of the events unlike the practice in other cities.

In Boston, during the pursuit of the Marathon bombing suspects, police updated the media and the public constantly via social media and specifically, Twitter.

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9:30 AM to 10:45 AM

Providence EMA issued the following Tweets:

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9:30 AM to 10:45 AM

Four schools in the Bucklin street area were also affected and locked down, but were re-opened. 

"What I can tell you is that there were four schools with restricted access this morning in the Bucklin Street area and those restrictions have been lifted -- we've been working with the police," said Laura Hart, with the Providence Public Schools Department, late Thursday morning.  

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10:45 AM Estimated

A white pickup truck was blocked in on the ramp entering on to I-95 North just outside on Providence Place Mall. The pick up in blocked in by a car that is stopped in front of it and another vehicle to its right.

ACCORDING TO POLICE SOURCES, GOLOCAL SPOKE TO LATE THURSDAY EVENING - A VIDEO WILL BE RELEASED BY POLICE ON FRIDAY THAT SHOWS THAT THE PICKUP CRASHED INTO ADJACENT VEHICLES.  THE VIDEO SOURCE IS RIDOT CAMERAS. 

SEE FULL VIDEO HERE

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10:45 AM Estimated

As approximately ten police officers move towards the vehicle from the rear and the right side, a GoLocal video shows the pickup move forward about three feet and pushes against the car in front of it.

SEE FULL VIDEO HERE

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10:45 AM Estimated

Within seconds of the vehicle lunging forward, multiple officers begin shooting. Approximately a dozen shots are fired into the white pickup which was not moving at the time that the shooting began.

SEE FULL VIDEO HERE

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10:46 AM Estimated

Directly after the police end shooting, the pickup moves forward into the vehicle in front of it. Smoke appears as the shooting victim, male driver leans against the steering wheel and the wheels spin.

SEE FULL VIDEO HERE

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10:46 AM Estimated

After the shooting, approximately eleven bullet holes can be counted in the glass and the metal of the truck.

SEE FULL VIDEO HERE

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10:47 AM Estimated

In the video, approximately 50 officers from Providence and State Police can be counted at the site of the shooting.

SEE FULL VIDEO HERE

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1:45 PM Approximately

Steve Pare, Providence Public Safety Commissioner; Rhode Island State Police Colonel Ann Assumpico; and Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements held a press conference on the highway near the site of the shooting.

“At about quarter of 11 this morning, we had an officer involved in a shooting resulting in the death of a suspect. We have not positively identified the suspect. There was a second person in that vehicle that was shot and critically injured, she has not been positively identified. She is in the ER,” said Pare.

“We had police officers from Providence and we had troopers from the State Police involved in the shooting, so we had multiple. That's what we are investigating now, so we don’t have a lot of the details,” said Pare.

Pare said at the press conference, “We don’t know if it is related to the earlier theft of a police cruiser, at this point, that is what we are putting together as well."

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4:00 PM

Former U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha tells GoLocal, "Don’t know enough about it at this point to say definitively.  That said, when I was U.S. Attorney, there was typically contact, and fairly quickly, between police agencies, particularly Providence Police,  and federal authorities in the wake of police-involved shootings.  Department of Justice policy when I was US Attorney was to wait for state/local review to be complete before deciding whether to do an in-depth federal review absent unusual circumstances. "

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7:00 PM Approximately

The website UpriseRI.com published an op-ed, titled, "A Murder by Police in Rhode Island."

The opinion piece reads:

The person shot earlier today by Rhode Island State Police on I-95 was killed NOT because he caused any harm to civilians but because he was believed to be a person that the police designated as a suspect. The person who they were actually looking for was a person who tried to escape custody earlier in the day and stole their cruiser while he was being transported to the courthouse. His initial charges before taking the cruiser were obstruction and possession of a stolen vehicle. READ THE REST HERE

 
 

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