PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two police officers sued by the victim of a severe police-involved moped crash last year are denying claims of negligence and reckless driving, according to a new court filing Monday.
Officers Kyle Endres and Brad McParlin both deny any wrongdoing that contributed to the crash, which left moped operator Jhamal Gonsalves in a coma for months. Two of his family members filed the lawsuit on his behalf last month as he remained in serious condition medical facility in New Jersey.
The lawsuit was brought shortly after Attorney General Peter Neronha said no charges would be filed in the case, after his office determined Endres’ actions did not rise to the criminal standard of “recklessness,” though he noted it may have been civilly negligent.
Endres was the officer who was driving behind Gonsalves at the time of the crash. The R.I. State Police accident reconstruction determined Endres’ cruiser did not directly hit Gonsalves’ moped, but struck a stop sign which came down onto Gonsalves’ helmet.
In the federal lawsuit filed last month, Gonsalves claims the two officers used “excessive and unsafe force” in trying to stop Gonsalves, and negligently operated their police cruisers.
Endres and McParlin have retained attorney Michael Colucci, who specializes in defending police officers. (Colucci is currently representing Sgt. Joseph Hanley in an unrelated criminal trial that started last week.)
The city is paying Colucci $180 per hour to represent Endres and McParlin.
In his written response to the lawsuit, Colucci indicates he’ll argue two affirmative defenses on behalf of the officers, including “qualified immunity,” which, if successful, could indemnify officers for actions taken on behalf of the police department.
The other defense listed is “assumption of risk,” a legal doctrine that states a person who voluntarily exposes themselves to danger cannot recover damages for injury.
The officer’s response to the complaint offers a point-by-point denial of the claims made in Gonsalves’ suit, including a challenge that Endres pursued Gonsalves on the moped or that he drove recklessly, causing him to hit the stop sign that came crashing down onto Gonsalves.
McParlin denies Gonsalves’ claim that he pulled onto Elmwood Avenue right after Endres issued a call on the radio to “box this guy in,” blocking the road and forcing Gonsalves to turn his moped.
While the court filing doesn’t go into further detail, both McParlin and Endres explained their actions in interviews during the initial investigation, which were released by Neronha’s office after the criminal investigation was closed.
Endres claimed he was not pursuing Gonsalves, telling investigators he had been instructed only to monitor and follow behind the various ATVS, dirt bikes and mopeds that had been riding erratically throughout the city that evening, but not chase them, with the goal of protecting public safety in case of a crash or incident.
He acknowledged telling fellow officers “box this guy in” over the radio, but said he meant they should do it after Gonsalves stopped, since it appeared he might be losing control of the moped. Boxing in during a pursuit, or to stop a vehicle and prevent a pursuit, is against department policy.
“By saying “box him in,” it, it was not my intent that to do so while he was operational,” Endres said during the interview. “That’s … I know that … that’s something we don’t do and that isn’t what I was suggesting by saying that whatsoever. I, again, thought he was gonna stop because he was losing control. However, he kept going.”
In his own interview, McParlin denied taking any action in response to Endres’ radio call to box Gonsalves in, and also denied attempting to block Gonsalves from passing on Elmwood Avenue. He said he pulled out onto the street in order to head “back into the city” after the street riders appeared to have entered Cranston.
Endres was suspended from the police department for two days for not driving in a safe manner and for not wearing a seatbelt. He was on desk duty during the criminal investigation, but is now back to full duty, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said Monday.
Paré is another named defendant in the case, along with Col. Hugh Clements and the city of Providence. The defendants have until March 16 to file their responses to the suit.