PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Police Sgt. Joseph Hanley is asking a Superior Court judge to move his upcoming trial to a court in South Kingstown, citing anti-police protests in Providence that he claims will influence a potential jury from Providence County.
Hanley was convicted by a District Court judge last year of assaulting Rishod Gore while arresting him on Tell Street in Providence in 2020, and was sentenced to one year of probation. But he appealed the conviction, and court rules dictate an appeal of a misdemeanor bench trial conviction automatically triggers a jury trial in Superior Court, giving him a second chance at defending himself against the allegations.
In a new motion filed in Providence Superior Court last week, Hanley claims the venue should be moved to Washington County to ensure a “fair and impartial trial, free of unwarranted ‘influence’ from local anti-police activist groups who will use the case to advance their political and social justice causes, creating needless pressure on the jury that will sit to decide this case.”
A hearing on the motion is set for March 3. A date for the trial is not yet set.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Neronha declined to comment on the motion, other than to say their office would be filing an objection.
If Hanley’s trial takes place in Providence, the jurors could hail from any of the nine cities and towns within Providence and Bristol counties.
Gore, the man whom Hanley was arresting in April 2020, testified at Hanley’s original trial last year that Hanley punched him, kicked him in the face and the ribs, stepped on his legs and kneeled on his head during the interaction.
Most of the incident was captured on the body camera of another officer on the scene. (Hanley did not activate his own camera.) The video also captured Hanley calling Gore, a Black man, several names including “animal.”
“You want to act like a savage, that’s what you get,” Hanley is heard saying. Gore testified that he considered the remarks to be racial slurs.
In his new motion, Hanley cites the fact that demonstrations against police violence, including following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, mainly took place in Providence. He further cites the fact that state Rep. Jose Batista, D-Providence, has sponsored a police reform bill named for Gore.
Batista had previously been the executive director of the Providence External Review Authority, a civilian police oversight group, and publicly released the body camera video of the Hanley incident over the objections of the Providence Police Department.
The release of the video got Batista fired from his job, and prompted Hanley to unsuccessfully seek to get his case dismissed.
At his first trial, Hanley took the stand and claimed his actions were justified “compliance strikes” to get Gore to comply with his commands, even though Gore was on the ground in handcuffs.
Hanley remains employed by the Providence Police Department, though on unpaid suspension. City leaders are seeking to fire him, but say they cannot start proceedings under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights until after his criminal case is adjudicated.
Steph Machado (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.