PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Superior Court judge has denied Providence Police Sgt. Joseph Hanley’s request to move his upcoming assault trial to South County.
Hanley had requested a change of venue for the jury trial, claiming he couldn’t get a fair trial in Providence County due to anti-police protests. His motion to change the location to Washington County Superior Court in South Kingstown included a variety of news clippings about protests against police brutality taking place in Providence.
“These groups can be intimidating,” Hanley’s defense attorney Michael Colucci argued during a hearing on the matter Thursday. “The jury has enough to consider and enough to worry about, and should do so without the added pressure of having to please groups that might not be pleased with their ruling.”
The attorney general’s office disagreed, pointing out the court has “vast mechanisms” to ensure a fair trial, including questions asked during the jury selection process. The court can also sequester jurors during trial.
“Citizens of Providence County have in interest in seeing the adjudication of criminal offenses that occurred in their own community,” Special Assistant Attorney General Michael McCabe wrote in a memo opposing Hanley’s motion.
He also pointed out much more high-profile defendants than Hanley have had successful jury trials where the judge denied a change of venue, including Derek Chauvin, a police officer who was convicted last year of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Superior Court Judge Richard Raspallo agreed with the prosecution, denying Hanley’s motion to move the trial.
“I do not find that there has been so great a prejudice against this defendant at this stage that I am convinced that a fair and impartial jury cannot be sat,” Raspallo said.
A date for the trial has not yet been set.
Hanley was convicted by a District Court judge last year of assaulting Rishod Gore, a man whom he was arresting, while Gore was on the ground in handcuffs on Tell Street in April 2020.
Video shown during the original trial showed Hanley kicking Gore, calling him an “animal” and kneeling on his neck. Gore, who testified at the trial, said he took the comments to be racist and feared for his life.
Hanley was sentenced to one year of probation, and appealed the conviction. He gets to have a second trial under a Rhode Island court rule that calls for a trial by jury to be held for any appeal of a misdemeanor bench conviction in District Court.
In the meantime, Hanley remains employed by the Providence Police, though he’s been suspended for nearly two years.
City leaders contend they cannot fire Hanley under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights until after his case is adjudicated. If Hanley had not appealed the original conviction, his termination proceedings could have moved forward.
Hanley has been on the force for more than 18 years.