PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence police officer seen on video slamming a suspect’s head into the ground during the city’s July 4th celebration has gone on injury leave, according to the Police Department.
Police spokesperson Lindsay Lague confirmed Wednesday Capt. Stephen Gencarella is on injured-on-duty status, or IOD. It was not immediately clear what injury he sustained.
Gencarella was one of two officers involved in a use-of-force incident over the weekend near India Point Park, in which Gencarella is seen on bystander video grabbing the hair of suspect Armando Rivas and slamming his head into the ground while he’s being detained by police.
Prior to that, Gencarella and Lt. Matthew Jennette, the other officer involved, are both seen struggling to restrain Rivas. Jennette is ultimately seen putting handcuffs on Rivas about 12 seconds before Gencarella slams Rivas’s head into the ground.
Jennette remains on regular duty, Lague said Wednesday.
The force used in the incident is under investigation by both the police department and the state attorney general’s office.
The internal police investigation includes a review of why there is no body-worn camera video of the incident from either officer, including why Gencarella had not even been issued a body camera, Lague said.
The altercation happened on Sunday night near the end of Providence’s 4th of July celebration in India Point Park.
Jennette wrote in a police report he was dispersing cars that were parked in the travel lane during the fireworks, and called a tow truck to remove a black Jeep that did not have any people in it and was blocking traffic.
Rivas, 21, returned to the SUV and shouted profanities at the officers for calling the tow truck, Jennette’s report says, and tried to get into the car. The report says Jennette then tried to arrest Rivas, who was “wildly attempting to break free” as Jennette tried to restrain him.
Gencarella ran over to the scene, according to Jennette’s report, and joined the attempt to restrain Rivas. Jennette describes Gencarella as using a “palm heel strike,” a police technique, to Rivas’s head prior to him being placed in handcuffs.
The report does not mention Gencarella grabbing Rivas’s hair and slamming his head to the ground after Jennette is seen putting handcuffs on Rivas.
The report claims Rivas was reaching for his waistband during the struggle. Police later found a 1.5-inch knife in his waistband, according to the report.
Rivas was charged with five criminal offenses, including two counts of simple assault and/or battery, resisting arrest, obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct. He pleaded no contest to four of the counts and the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, according to court records. He was sentenced to one year of probation.
Briefly reached for comment Wednesday, Rivas told 12 News he disputes the police narrative and said he was treated unfairly. He was not immediately available to answer further questions.
The 51-second cellphone video was taken by an unknown bystander during Rivas’ arrest, and does not show the entire incident from start to finish. It’s unclear if any other cameras captured the altercation; Lague said the Police Department is not yet aware of any other footage.
Providence police officers in uniform are required to wear body cameras and activate them while responding to calls, but neither Jennette nor Gencarella captured video of the incident.
Gencarella has not had a body camera issued to him, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said. Jennette did not record body camera footage, but it was not immediately clearly if he was wearing his camera or not.
Asked Wednesday for clarification, Lague said the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility “is looking into this as part of their review, as well as why Captain Gencarella has not yet been issued a [body camera].”
On Tuesday, Paré told Target 12, “They were using force and it’s disturbing of what I have seen thus far. There is a lot more we need to do on what led up to it, and perhaps witnesses can fill in some. But the 30-second clip I have seen is concerning and that is why we initiated a review along with the attorney general’s office so we can review it and look at policy.”
Officer Michael Imondi, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 union that represents police officers, declined to comment on the incident.
The Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC pointed to the body camera issue in calling for the two officers to be placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation. The PAC’s executive director, Harrison Tuttle, referred to the police actions as “excessive force” and compared it to the force that led to the death of George Floyd.
“During an arrest they violently wrestled Rivas to the ground, forcibly restraining him, and at one point slamming his head into the pavement,” Tuttle said. “Rivas was already in handcuffs and was not visibly resisting his arrest.”
“Unfortunately, time and time again we see officers abusing their power, disproportionately affecting communities of color with little to no repercussions,” Tuttle said.
The organization also continued to call for the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, or LEOBOR, a state law which protects officers who are accused of wrongdoing.
LEOBOR is also the reason Providence Sgt. Joseph Hanley is still on the force despite being convicted by a judge of assaulting a handcuffed suspect on the street more than two years ago, an incident that was also captured on camera. Hanley is appealing the conviction and is expected to have a jury trial this fall.