WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – A man who got into a violent car chase and shootout with Warwick police last summer was sentenced to eight years behind bars despite a recommendation from prosecutors to send him to prison for two decades.
Kenneth Cunningham, 40, formerly of West Warwick, pleaded no contest to 11 counts on July 13 in Kent County Superior Court. Judge Joseph Montalbano sentenced Cunningham to eight years to serve, 17 years of the sentence was suspended.
Cunningham was credited with one year while awaiting trial, putting his tentative release date to June 2022. That sentence may shrink over time if Cunningham earns so-called “good time.”
On August 18 investigators say Cunningham – who previously served time in California prisons – fled from Warwick police, waving a gun at them and smashing into several cruisers before taking off on foot. Police said as they approached Cunningham he screamed “I’m not going back” and fired several rounds at them.
None of the officers were shot but they returned fire. Court records show Cunningham was shot several times to the right side of his body including his shoulder arm and hand. He was treated at Rhode Island Hospital before being sent to the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston to await trial.
Colonel Stephen McCartney of the Warwick Police said he was “disappointed” by the sentence, which he learned about when he was contacted by Eyewitness News.
“I would say this very respectfully to the process, I feel strongly for my people that their lives are worth a lot and their lives were on the line,” McCartney said. “I would like to have seen more time.”
Court spokesperson Craig Berke said he wasn’t immediately able to contact the judge for a comment.
Emily Martineau, a spokesperson for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said they had asked for more time at the July 13 sentencing.
“The prosecution’s recommendation was 20 years to serve, and the prosecution also refused to drop any of the 11 charges,” Martineau said in an email.
McCartney said he spoke with the Attorney General’s office after he was contacted about the sentencing to determine why they weren’t notified. He said they came to the conclusion that there could have been better communication, but McCartney is comfortable with the effort prosecutors made.
He added members from his department would have been present for the sentencing had they known.
“I think you always have to be careful sometimes what cases you choose to send a message but I certainly think this case fit that parameter,” McCartney said. “We certainly would have been there to signify what we feel would have been a just decision.”
At the time of the shooting Cunningham was a wanted parole violator out of California, where he had served 11 years for second degree murder and second degree robbery. Records indicate he has been charged with a long list of crimes including theft and sex with a minor.
Police say Cunningham violated his parole for allegedly striking his wife in California.
Court records indicate Cunningham may have to serve another year in a California prison for the violation. Tim White( email@example.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI