PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence police sergeant accused of assaulting a Black man as he lay on the sidewalk in handcuffs last year testified in his own defense Friday, denying that he kicking Rishod Gore in the face or head but defending other actions captured on video.
Sgt. Joseph Hanley reenacted much of the incident from his perspective, using a lawyer from his defense team as a stand-in for Gore. He also brought multiple props to the courtroom to use in his demonstrations.
The lawyer, Michael Prew, laid face down on the carpeted floor of the courtroom while Hanley punched him in the side and kneeled on his shoulder.
One of the primary points Hanley sought to make was in disputing prosecutors’ claim that he “bounced” his knee into Gore’s neck on the pavement, as shown on Officer Abraham Lugo’s body-worn camera video.
In Gore’s words during prior testimony, Hanley “put his knee on my head and shimmied and tried to crush my face into the concrete.” He said he feared for his life, especially in a national climate of police brutality against Black men.
But Hanley said he was actually kneeling on Gore’s trapezius muscle — doing the same to Prew on Friday as he explained — seeking to gain control of Gore and give him enough discomfort to get him to comply with police.
“What I’m trying to do is almost like a noogie,” Hanley said, moving his knee back and forth on Prew.
He only hit Gore in the “meaty” flesh of his oblique, Hanley added, repeatedly calling the actions “compliance strikes” that didn’t have as much force behind them as a true punch or kick.
“He showed me no signs of complying from the start to the end,” Hanley said.
Officer Lugo testified earlier in the trial that Gore had stopped resisting prior to the time Hanley is seen on the video kicking Gore in the side and kneeling on him.
Hanley also flatly denied kicking Gore in his head or face, although Gore insists that he did, and a woman who lives above the scene also said she witnessed him do so.
The video of this alleged strike is much less clear than the others. It’s not captured on Lugo’s body camera — he’s facing away from Hanley at the time — and Hanley did not activate his own body-worn camera.
The moment in question is captured on the video recorded by the woman upstairs.
“You wanted this big guy,” Hanley is heard saying, while walking over to Gore’s head. A loud sound is heard, and Gore shouts out a profanity.
Hanley had an explanation prepared on Friday, bringing to court a piece of patio stone and a bag of rocks in an effort to recreate the sidewalk on Tell Street. He laced up his police boot and scuffed it on the stone, telling the judge the sound in the video was simply his boot scuffing the concrete near Gore’s head.
Yet another courtroom demonstration involved water bottles, which Hanley walked on to show the judge how he “pinned” Gore’s calves to the ground without putting the full pressure of his weight on him. He said he stepped on Gore’s legs to avoid getting kicked in the groin.
Hanley’s testimony also shed more light on why he was approaching Gore in the first place. Three officers previously testified in the trial that Gore had held up a cell phone and shouted at officers, which they took to be a potential threat.
But Hanley said he also believed Gore to be an accomplice to a domestic assault, since he climbed into the same black BMW that was identified earlier as a possible suspect vehicle in a call for a man who threatened to “slaughter” his girlfriend.
That suspect — Gore’s friend — had already been arrested on the scene before Hanley arrived. Gore and his girlfriend had dropped the man off at a house on Knight Street.
“My antenna went up because I saw it was a black BMW,” Hanley said. He said he walked to the car and gave commands to “open the door” and “show me your hands,” disputing Gore’s testimony that he received no command or request to get out of the car before officers opened the door and dragged him out.
No commands are heard on the body camera video prior to officers opening the car door, because that part of the video is silent. The cameras are always buffering, so when an officer activates the camera it captures the previous 30 seconds without any audio, while recording audio and video moving forward.
Hanley acknowledged that he didn’t tell Gore why he was being arrested.
“Mr. Gore was so animated, agitated and threatening, that I believe that from the minute he wanted to mix it up with police,” Hanley said. “He wanted to be arrested. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Hanley, who has been suspended from the Providence Police Department since the incident, was still on the stand being cross-examined at the end of the day Friday.
The bench trial is not set to continue until March 11, due to COVID-related court scheduling conflicts.