PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Providence police captain has been charged with assault after being captured on video slamming a man’s face into the pavement during an arrest.
Capt. Stephen Gencarella, who has been on the force for 25 years, was charged Thursday with simple assault, according to the police department.
Col. Hugh Clements, the police chief, has already notified Gencarella that he wants to fire him for multiple violations of department policy. Gencarella has requested a hearing under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, where the recommended punishment will be considered.
The LEOBOR hearing won’t take place until after Gencarella’s criminal case is adjudicated. He is currently on paid injured-on-duty status, with a tax-free salary of $105,730.
Neither the police department nor Gencarella would disclosed what injury he suffered during the July 3 incident.
The alleged assault took place during the city’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration on July 3, when Lt. Matthew Jennette called a tow truck for a vehicle that was double-parked near India Point Park.
When Armando Rivas returned to the car, he became irate, according to the initial police report, and was swearing at Jennette. When Jenette tried to arrest him he resisted, police claim, and Capt. Gencarella ran over to help.
The 51-second video captured by a bystander shows a portion of the arrest.
(Story continues below the video.)
The video initially shows the two officers using “pain compliance techniques” in order to handcuff Rivas, Clements noted in his termination letter. But after Rivas was laying on the ground in handcuffs, Clements wrote, Gencarella is seen grabbing the 21-year-old’s hair and slamming his face into the pavement. The police report and after-action report, written later by Jennette and Gencarella, claims Gencarella used a “palm-heel strike” to Rivas’ head.
“This strike is not depicted on the video,” Clements wrote in the letter. “What is captured on the video is the grabbing of Rivas’s hair by you and you forcefully pushing his head/face into the pavement.”
Clements wrote that Gencarella’s actions amount to “violations of criminal law and the civil rights of Armando Rivas.”
Gencarella’s attorney, Michael Colucci, said Gencarella used force because he believed the suspect was reaching for a weapon.
“Police officers are authorized to use reasonable force options, available to them in the moment, to address threats as they arise during a struggle,” Colucci said. “The suspect, loosely cuffed and not yet searched, was observed reaching toward an area of his waistband that contained what appeared to be a firearm and was subsequently confirmed to be a knife stowed in a gun holster.”
Gencarella, 50, hobbled slightly at his arraignment in Providence District Court Thursday afternoon. He pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. His next court date is Sept. 14.
(Story continues below the video.)
Colucci, speaking to reporters afterwards, said being in handcuffs does not mean the threat is over.
“They’re not secured until they’re in a cell block at a police station,”Colucci said. “That’s when they’re secured.”
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said police leaders could not talk about the case due to the restrictions in LEOBOR.
The police protection law could mean Gencarella remains on the job for months or years, until his case is over — including the appeal, if he is convicted.
‘We’re in favor of the repeal of LEOBOR, precisely for that reason,” said Jim Vincent, the president of the NAACP’s Providence chapter. “You can’t have an administrative process until the criminal case has been settled.”
General Assembly leaders have said they support reforming LEOBOR, but no legislation has been brought to a vote.
Lt. Jennette’s actions during the arrest, including the fact that he didn’t have his body camera on, are still the subject of an ongoing internal investigation, according to Paré.
Jennette remains on active duty.