PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After two days of searching, sheriffs on Friday located Rishod Gore and took him into custody, as the trial of the police officer accused of assaulting him last year continued.
Gore had failed to appear on Wednesday to testify against Sgt. Joseph Hanley, despite previously cooperating with the investigation. After multiple attempts to get him to show up were unsuccessful, Judge Brian Goldman issue a civil warrant — called a “body attachment” — to go get him.
Sheriffs located Gore late Friday afternoon, after the prosecution had already rested its case, and brought him before the judge.
It was too late in the day to start Gore’s testimony, which could last hours with cross-examination. Goldman told Gore he would release him if he promised to return on the next scheduled day of the trial, set for Feb. 25 because of court scheduling conflicts.
“It’s hard for me to understand police officers scraping the state searching for Rishod Gore, who is the victim in the case, when the police officer kicked him in the face,” Gore said.
“You are a material witness to the prosecution’s case against the police officer,” Judge Goldman said. “They’re trying to vindicate your rights in this case.”
Gore ultimately agreed to return, and the judge released him on personal recognizance without setting bail. He told Gore he would be held in contempt of court if he does not show up.
“You have my word,” Gore told the judge.
Goldman then ruled that the prosecution could reopen their case, though they had already rested.
Gore declined to comment outside the courthouse.
As Hanley left court, he told 12 News: “You wish that if you were on trial you had so many chances as that young man. Doesn’t happen to anybody.”
Hanley is accused of kicking, punching and stepping on the legs of Gore after arresting him last year. The incident was captured on body-worn cameras and on a cell phone video taken by a civilian, who testified that she saw Hanley kick Gore from her bedroom window above the scene.
Earlier on Friday, the defense began presenting its case by calling a police use-of-force expert, Officer Charles DiChiara from the Waltham, Massachusetts, police department.
DiChiara, who trains officers and instructors in use of force, said Hanley had called him and asked him to provide expert witness testimony at the trial. He has testified in police officers’ defense in several other cases.
Based on the video, DiChiara said it seemed as though Hanley used appropriate force for the level of resistance he was receiving from Gore. He said he assumed that Hanley did not strike Gore too hard because there wasn’t significant trauma to Gore’s body. (Details of Gore’s injuries, if any, have not yet been presented at the trial.)
“That arrest that I saw happens every day in every city,” DiChiara said. “It’s a low level of force.”
But earlier in the trial, Providence Sgt. Paul Zienowicz testified that he had the opposite reaction when he watched the video.
“I was astonished, quite frankly,” Zienowicz said on Wednesday. He works in the Office of Professional Responsibility and investigated the case internally at the police department.
On cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Dan Guglielmo asked DiChiara whether it gave him pause that Zienowicz — also a 32-year veteran of the force — disagrees with his assessment.
“It does give me pause, but it doesn’t change my opinion,” DiChiara said.
He did acknowledge, however, that if Hanley kicked Gore in the head area — something a civilian witness and Zienowicz testified to, and which Gore mentioned in court Friday — that would then be excessive force.
“If he kicked the handcuffed prisoner in the head, that would be a game-changer for me,” DiChiara siad. “But I didn’t see that from the video, and I asked him.”
Earlier on Friday, defense attorney Michael Colucci had tried to get a judgment of acquittal for Hanley, arguing in part that the lack of victim testimony meant prosecutors couldn’t prove he’d been assaulted.
Judge Goldman denied the motion, saying there was enough evidence for the fact-finder — him, since this is bench trial — to determine if an assault had taken place.
Colucci said Friday he plans to call Sgt. Hanley to the stand, his final witness in the case. But Gore’s appearance puts a potential wrench in the plans, putting the case back in the hands of the prosecution.
Gore is expected to be the first witness to testify when the trial resumes on Feb. 25, which will allow the prosecution to enter evidence they could not previously submit, such as his statement to police and a video of him being taken to jail in a police cruiser. (The evidence wasn’t previously submitted because Gore wasn’t there to be cross-examined about what he said.)
Andrew Horwitz, assistant dean at Roger Williams University School of Law, weighed in Friday on whether Gore’s failure to appear for several days might harm the state’s case.
“There are a variety of reasons why someone would not want to cooperate or be afraid to cooperate,” Horwitz told 12 News. “If I’m the judge I don’t think I think I draw any kind of negative inference from that. Especially when the bulk of the evidence really has come in through video tape, which is hard to dispute.”