Providence Shooting: ACLU Raises New Questions About Chase

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


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RI ACLU's Steve Brown

The controversial police shooting on I-95 last Thursday of Joseph Santos came under greater scrutiny when ACLU Executive Director Steve Brown raised significant questions about the chase of the white pickup. Brown made the comments while appearing on GoLocal LIVE.

“If you say that he was using the vehicle as a dangerous weapon then, I think you have to argue he was using the vehicle as a dangerous weapon the whole time, which would mean [police] could use deadly force any time there's a high-speed chase,” said Brown.

“We tried to put all the information together. What concerned us in both news conferences is that officials said that although the investigation was ongoing they felt everything was done 'properly,” said Brown.

Both the Providence Police on Friday at a press conference and the Rhode Island State Police on Saturday outlined their respective roles in the chase and shooting. The chase involved more than 40 police vehicles, once Santos and his passenger Christine Demers were pinned in on I-95 there are more than 60 police officials viewable on site, and 43 bullets were shot at the pickup killing Santos and critically injuring Demers.

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Beginning of the Review

“Let me start by giving a caveat -- we aren't making judgments at this point -- we're asking lots of questions. There might not be a clear answer when all is said and done, but you want all the information before you decide whether or not it was proper,” said Brown.

“I’ve seen the video. The problem with the Police Department's explanation for the use of deadly force -- in these circumstances, if you accept it, what they're really saying is deadly force is OK every time there is a police chase,” added Brown.

On Monday, GoLocal published the Providence Police policy of vehicle pursuit — read below — and yesterday the RI State Police released their pursuit policy.

“Because the fact of the matter is the chase itself was much more dangerous to the public -- a car going 80-90 miles per hour with a dozen or so more police cars behind them at that speed -- than when the shooting occurred when he was essentially stopped, going zero miles an hour, trying to get away from the block the police put on him,” said Brown. 

“I don't want to discount the legitimate concerns the police had seeing him try to flee. But whether or not that justifies the use of forces...are questions that need discussion,” added Brown.

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Santos' vehicle after the shooting

In 2015, USA Today published a series of articles and its analysis showed more than 5,000 bystanders and passengers had been killed across the United States in police chases since 1979. Tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions, often for minor infractions.

A report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the National Institute of Justice showed 91% of high-speed chases are initiated in response to a non-violent crime. The study analyzed nearly 8,000 high-speed chases in the IACPs database. It found that 42% involved a simple traffic infraction, another 18% involved a stolen vehicle, and 15% involved a suspected drunk driver. 

“This may be the biggest issue in all this -- you have to ask how did we get to that point. For many years -- depts. relied on data have generally adopted strict policies reg. high-speed chases. The vast majority are initiated against people who aren't violent felons. And yet the lives of many innocent people are at should be a rare situation that we engage in a high-speed chase,” said Brown. 

"The policy says there should be no more than two vehicles involved in a chase at any given time," added Brown.


Related Slideshow: City of Providence Pursuit Policy - 2014


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