PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The civilian board in Providence with police oversight powers is seeking to review arrests made at a protest Thursday evening after receiving a formal complaint about police officers’ actions, according to executive director Jose Batista.
Batista, executive director of the Providence External Review Authority, asked Providence Police to provide a briefing on both the protest arrests and an unrelated incident about police response to a noise complaint at wine bar Fortnight earlier this week. (A formal complaint has only been filed with PERA for the protest incident so far.)
The two people arrested Thursday were part of a Black Lives Matter counter-protest outside the Providence Police department, where several members of Back the Blue were rallying in favor of police, despite the scheduled pro-police event being canceled due to inclement weather.
Police allege Najeli Rodriguez, 18, hit a sergeant with her bullhorn during the protest, leading police to charge her with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and simple assault. Her lawyer Shannah Kurland denies the charges, saying Rodriguez was targeted by police because she was protesting against them.
The other arrest was 28-year-old Jonas Pierre, who police say shoved an officer while trying to interfere with Rodriguez’ arrest. Police say he had multiple knives on him, and he was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, simple assault, obstructing an officer and a weapons charge.
According to a police report obtained by Target 12, the two groups of opposing protesters were initially on opposite sides of Dean Street on the sidewalk, and police told them not to enter the street and block traffic.
As protesters entered the street, police said they closed a portion of Dean Street. Police claim Rodriguez was using a bullhorn in the middle of the street, and she was told by Sgt. Matthew Rampone that she would be arrested if she didn’t go back to the sidewalk.
The report says Rodriguez was shouting into the bullhorn into another officer’s face, and then police claim she “struck Sgt. Rampone in the side of the face with the bullhorn.”
A video of the incident streamed on Facebook Live by Jonathan Riccitelli – one of the police supporters – shows Rodriguez apparently break free from a group of officers before she is chased and arrested. The bullhorn flies out of her hand during the arrest. The video starts in the middle of the altercation with police and pans back and forth between the two groups, and does not capture her allegedly hitting the sergeant with the bullhorn.
Rodriguez is seen in the video screaming and struggling as three officers handcuff her. Pierre is seen on the ground, also being handcuffed by officers and then led into the police department.
The video then shows dozens of officers then line up in riot gear facing the Black Lives Matter protesters. The group eventually marched down the street and the protest later broke up.
Kurland, Rodriguez’ attorney, called the police side of the story a “fabrication,” and said police were targeting her for her speech.
“She was one of a few people that was calling out, chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and things like that which is allowed under the constitution,” Kurland said.
Rodriguez was initially held without bail Friday as an alleged violator of her bail from a previous case in January, where she is charged with felony assault and possession of a weapon on school grounds. (Kurland said the incident stemmed from a fight at school.)
But Kurland said Friday night Rodriguez had been released. It was not immediately clear what led to the reversal.
Several elected leaders were among those calling for Rodriguez’ release Friday.
“Teenagers should not to be held without bail,” City Councilor Kat Kerwin wrote on Twitter. “Peaceful protesters should not be held without bail. No one should be held without bail.”
According to court records, Rodriguez had been approved for the court’s diversion program after the January charges that aims to provide “alternative to traditional conviction, sentencing, and incarceration by providing eligible defendants with a framework of supervision and services in lieu of incarceration and/or probation to help them make informed decisions, engage in positive behavior, and reduce the risk of recidivism.”
Her eligibility for the program is set to be reviewed in a hearing in August. Kurland said Rodriguez graduated high school this spring.
Police spokesperson Lindsay Lague said police “will work with PERA on their concerns regarding last night’s arrests.”
PERA is also currently reviewing two other incidents involving Providence police officers: the arrest of Sgt. Joseph Hanley and an allegation that an officer shot a projectile that hit a person’s eye. Batista said the group is still waiting for police to provide evidence for the review.
The Providence City Council issued a subpoena last week for body camera footage from the Hanley incident, which Batista said they have not yet received.