PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said Thursday the video of police officers arresting three teens who allegedly pointed BB guns at people and led officers on a chase through Providence is “appalling.”
The force that Paré says was used on the teens by Officers Domingo Diaz and Mitchel Voyer has led to a criminal investigation, he told reporters, and both have been suspended with pay.
“I saw excessive use of force in some of the body cams that is both troubling and appalling,” Paré said. But he declined to release the body camera footage during the criminal investigation.
The arrests of the two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old took place in the early hours of July 9, after the teens allegedly led police on a wild chase through Providence in a BMW convertible with tinted windows. They’re accused of pointing a BB gun that looked like a rifle at multiple people including a police officer, and speeding and running red lights during the hours-long event.
The chase ended when the driver of the BMW crashed into a fire hydrant on Salmon Street.
An initial police report written after the incident says nothing about force being used against the teens, only describing them as being “brought to the ground” and placed in handcuffs.
But Paré said it was later brought to the police department’s attention that “there were injuries as a result of not only the crash, but some use of force that was used by police officers.”
Diaz was placed on leave two days later, Paré said, and then police invoked the state use of force protocol that “fully opened a criminal investigation” jointly with the R.I. Attorney General’s office and R.I. State Police.
Diaz and Voyer were both placed on paid suspension, which Paré noted is the “only option” at this stage, since the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights prevents unpaid suspensions longer than two days without triggering a disciplinary hearing process.
Paré declined to describe what sort of force was used by the officers.
Mayor Jorge Elorza also said he has reviewed the body camera video, describing it as “appalling” and “beyond upsetting.”
“I fully support the suspension of these two officers, taking their guns away, taking them off the streets and holding them accountable,” Elorza said.
The latest action against Providence Police officers comes after three officers were disciplined for their behavior in a confrontation with two groups on Sayles Street. And earlier this year Sgt. Joseph Hanley was convicted of assaulting a man in handcuffs on the ground during an arrest last year. (Hanley remains employed by the Police Department, but on unpaid suspension, pending his appeal.)
In addition to the criminal investigation, the Providence Police is also conducting an administrative review of any policy violations by the officers on the scene.
Michael Imondi, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3, said he was “fed up” by what he said was a quick leap to judgment by Elorza and Paré.
“Last I knew neither he nor the mayor were use-of-force specialists,” Imondi said. “You have to do what you have to do to effect the arrest within policy and procedure.”
“These kids were terrorizing the city,” he added. He said he has not seen the video and does not know exactly what force the officers used.
He also criticized the two leaders for commenting on the officers’ actions prior to the completion of the investigation.
“I think they should’ve not said anything until the investigation was over on this,” Imondi said.
He added that many rank-and-file officers now feel as though they can’t use necessary force — per their training — when a subject is resisting arrest, because it may be perceived as excessive in a video.
“It’s never going to be acceptable to the commissioner and the mayor,” he said.
Paré noted that “most” of the large volume of calls to which Providence officers respond are handled well. But he said any incidents where officers are not acting appropriately will be investigated.
“Whether it’s Sayles Street, the Hanley matter or anything that comes to our attention or we’ve found that’s inappropriate we’re going to take action, and we’re going to hold officers accountable,” Paré said.