NEW: Providence Police Officers Disciplined in John Prince Case
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Prince filed the complaint following the an incident that took place last September where his cell phone was confiscated by police officers he was videotaping after following him into his home.
VIDEO: See Prince's Reaction to the Events BELOW
Prince, a community organizer, had called it a "modern day house invasion."
"After the completion of the internal affairs investigation those officers were appropriately disciplined," said Lindsay Lague, Public Information Officer with the Office of the Public Safety Commissioner. "We never talk about the discipline action or the names.
Reaction in the Community
On Monday, Prince said that he thought the disciplinary action was a "soft punishment."
"I think I just want to say that the criminal justice system and the police system is all in cahoots, and fighting these systems in place is not impossible for a small group of people come together to make it happen," said Prince.
Last November, Prince, along with community supporters, had held a press conference outside the public safety complex to address the issue. Two of the attendees present - Providence City Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris and Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association Executive Director Ray Watson -- spoke with GoLocal Monday to offer their reactions.
"Doing my time at DARE, we were trained on video, and empowerment programs that we've been part it, and John knew he wasn't doing anything wrong," said Harris. "The police have to realize there is a segment of the population that do pay attention. I am happy about John -- but there's a lot more we can do. Not all the time does it mean harassment, because as we know that escalates things.
This opens up the opportunity for police and the community to have a dialogue around public safety, what the neighbors want, in order to create a community that is safe.
"I think it's a very good thing for a few reasons. First, it shows that to some extent, the justice system still does work. Second, I think it's encouragement to others to speak up and hold unprofessional and disrespectful officers accountable for their conduct in our community. Lastly, John's a great guy and didn't deserve to be treated how he was," said Watson. "So on a personal note, I'm happy to see that there was some respect shown for John in particular.
First Amendment, Civil Rights
"I can't speak to confiscation of cell phones, but more of the First Amendment violations. I don't know how often this type of incident occurs, since case law has become so clear, it is hopeful it would be rare -- but this shows it's a problem to be concerned about, even if it happened just once," said Brown. "Once has to wonder how many people have been in the same situation but haven't done anything. John isn't your average individual who will cower and give up. He knows his rights, and it's a unique situation.
"It's hard to make generalizations in some of the instances, the law is clear - there should be be no questions about a person's right to be engaged in a certain First Amendment activity," said Brown. "There are some officers who will push the boundaries to intimidate someone into stopping [filming], and my guess is that happens more often than not, and it's that individuals don''t know their rights."
"We're hopeful we'll see change," said Brown. "The Providence police promulgated an internal policy following this incident that makes explicit that residents have a constitutional right to videotape and record. That was not there before. It will be a lot harder for an officer to engage in a confiscation of a cell phone."
Jim Vincent with the NAACP Providence Branch offered a critical view of how the process played out.
"Either the police do not know the laws in term of what individual's rights are . Police should be retrained, and retrained in the laws of engaging private citizens. It's not illegal to tape police," said Vincent. "They would never say you can't tape me, or take custody of the phone unless it's distrust. It suggests to me the police are doing something wrong. If you want it to stop, you're doing something wrong. If you're doing it by the book, you're not taking someone's camera, someone's phone
"The average person might not understand what you can and cannot do," said Vincent. "You still have to have a penalty for you actions. It's not an excuse for violating someone's rights."
The following video was produced by Roots Media and Errol Lomba. More Roots Media can be found on Vimeo HERE.
Related Slideshow: Providence Legal Settlements
The below slides list the top 20 legal settlements by category paid out by the City of Providence in 2014. Each slide lists the category of settlement, the number of cases, and the total amount paid out. Settlement categories are listed in order of the total amount, from least to greatest. Note that there are two main types of settlements: those that resolve a lawsuit and those that are in response to legal claims—usually for small amounts—that are filed with the City of Providence instead in a court.
Note that the amounts paid out for smaller claims and in lawsuits are tallied separately. (For example there are two slides for slip and falls. One for settlements resulting from lawsuits and one for settlements paid out in response to a legal claim filed with the city.) Each slide indicates whether the cases involved were legal claims or lawsuits. Data were obtained from a response to a public records request.