PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After getting word that a U-Haul truck was used to block traffic on I-95 Monday night, Rhode Island State Police arrested a truckload of suspects a short time later.
According to state police, a group of protesters blocked the entirety of I-95 North near the Providence Place mall by parking the box truck and two other vehicles across the four travel lanes. They also put down several traffic cones and stood holding signs to prevent drivers from passing.
State police said they got the call around 9:30 p.m. and the vehicles had left by the time troopers arrived on scene. The highway was closed for approximately seven minutes, according to police, and traffic was backed up for a half-mile before it started flowing again.
Soon after, troopers spotted and pulled over a U-Haul truck on Orms Street in the area of I-95. The driver, identified as Kade Page, was taken into custody along with six other people found in the back of the truck, state police said.
Each of the following were charged with disorderly conduct and conspiracy:
- Kade Page, 24, of East Bridgewater
- Devin A. Costa, 24, of Rumford
- Cody B. Boyce, 24, of Lincoln
- Evan C. Laferriere, 23, of Attleboro
- Najeli Rodriguez, 19, of Providence
- Julia A. Unger, 21, of Narragansett
- A 15-year-old juvenile male
“This was an extremely dangerous situation, but luckily no one was hurt by the reckless conduct of these individuals,” Col. James Manni said. “While we respect the right to peacefully protest, we have zero tolerance for those who endanger the lives of others by purposefully blocking traffic and will arrest and charge anyone who does so.”
The juvenile was released to a guardian, while the remaining suspects were held overnight and arraigned in court on Tuesday.
Five of the suspects pleaded not guilty and were released on $1,000 personal recognizance. They’re due back in court on Nov. 13.
Rodriguez was ordered held without bail until a status update on Friday, Oct. 16, for a probation violation connected to assault charges dating back to January.
And this wasn’t the first time she was charged with blocking a roadway. In July, she was arrested during a demonstration outside of the Providence Public Safety Complex.
Police claimed Rodriguez hit a sergeant with her bullhorn, which led to her being charged with simple assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. Her attorney denied the allegations, saying Rodriguez was targeted by police because she was protesting against them.
Two days later, during another protest, Rodriguez told 12 News she was taken to the ground by police and left with bruises.
“I was yanked, tackled, body-slammed, my face was smashed into the pavement just because I was protesting,” Rodriguez said.
On Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Leonidas Raptakis announced plans to reintroduce a bill that would make blocking highways during a protest a felony punishable by prison time.
“You want to protest? I believe in First Amendment rights. But protest in a safe manner. Don’t go protest and cause harm to others,” he said.
Raptakis suggested that the stoppage of traffic not only endangers the protesters and drivers involved, but it could also delay an ambulance from getting to the hospital or firefighters from responding to a fire.
“What happens to the pregnant woman beginning her delivery, or the heart attack victim or elderly person during an emergency when seconds are vital for survival? Should these people lose their lives or experience severe repercussions due to the blocking of a highway during a protest?” he wrote in a news release.
“There need to be consequences if and when a protestor’s premeditated actions cause harm or death to the general public,” Raptakis continued.
Under the bill, according to Raptakis, a conviction would result in one to three years in prison for a first offense, three to five years for a second offense, five to ten years for a third offense, and up to 20 years if the traffic blockage results in serious injury or death.