PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Police Captain Stephen Gencarella plans to fight the department’s attempt to fire him, seeking a hearing under the state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
Police Chief Hugh Clements last week announced the department’s recommendation that Gencarella be terminated after being captured on video smashing a suspect’s face into the ground during the city’s 4th of July celebration at India Point.
Gencarella, who is currently on paid injured-on-duty leave for an unspecified injury he sustained during the same incident, had five days to either accept the punishment or fight it by requesting a LEOBOR hearing.
The captain’s intention to dispute his termination was confirmed by Vincent Ragosta, an attorney prosecuting the LEOBOR case on behalf the the Police Department. Gencarella’s attorney, Michael Colucci, also later confirmed the intent to challenge the administrative charges.
“We intend to abide by the strict requirements of LEOBOR and not offer any public commentary,” Colucci said.
Gencarella, a 25-year veteran of the force, is also the subject of a criminal investigation by the R.I. Attorney General’s office. A spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Neronha said Tuesday the investigation is ongoing, and did not have a timeline for when a decision would be made on whether or not to file charges.
Clements wrote in his termination letter last week that Gencarella’s actions were a “clear violation” of the city’s use-of-force policy and training, and also accused him of lying in his after-action report about the incident.
The 51-second cell phone video, recorded by a bystander, shows part of Gencarella and Lt. Matthew Jennette’s arrest of Armando Rivas, whom police say was double parked during the city’s fireworks show on July 3.
The police report says Rivas was shouting profanities at police for calling a tow truck for his vehicle, and was refusing to comply with Jennette’s commands. Police say Rivas resisted Jennette’s attempts to arrest him, and Gencarella ran over to the scene.
The video initially shows the two officers using “pain compliance techniques” in order to handcuff Rivas, Clements notes in his letter. But after Rivas was laying on the ground in handcuffs, 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.”
Neither officer recorded the incident on body-worn camera — Gencarella hadn’t even been issued one — which is part of the internal investigation into the matter.
The LEOBOR hearing process involves a panel of three law enforcement officers, active or retired, who determine the accused officer’s fate. One panelist is selected by the accused officer, another by the police department, and a third is picked mutually.
Ragosta said Gencarella has selected Captain Michael Smith of the Smithfield Police Department as his designee to the LEOBOR panel.
It’s unclear when a LEOBOR hearing might take place. If Gencarella is charged with a crime, the entire process would be delayed until after the criminal case is adjudicated. (Police Sgt. Joseph Hanley, whom police also want to fire for an April 2020 incident, remains employed for this reason.)
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.