SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — An intellectually disabled South Kingstown man could sue the town after he was wrongfully detained over the summer, 12 News has learned.
Jonathan Garvey, 60, was pulled over in the Curtis Corner Middle School parking lot back in June as police investigated a possible car theft, according to a police report that was included in a demand letter sent to the town and provided to 12 News by Garvey’s attorney.
Demand letters are required by law before someone files a lawsuit against a city or town; it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a suit. It gives both sides the opportunity to mediate an issue before involving the courts.
The incident was first reported by The Independent.
“That’s my car!”
The incident report says the investigation began on Weathervane Road, where a woman at a yard sale started chasing what she believed was her vehicle.
The man hosting the yard sale told police the woman sprinted from his front lawn and down the street shouting, “That’s my car! That’s my [expletive] car!”
The report states that another man at the yard sale called 911 and followed the vehicle to the middle school, where Patrolman Jonathan McHugh blocked the car in with his cruiser. McHugh then drew his weapon and ordered the driver, later identified in the report as Garvey, to get out.
In body-worn camera video of the incident, Garvey seemed confused and even asked McHugh, “What did I do wrong?” McHugh did not respond and instead grabbed Garvey shortly after he opened the driver’s side door and stepped out of his vehicle.
“I attempted to place his hands behind his back; however, he tensed up and would not cooperate,” McHugh noted in the police report. “I was able to get his left arm behind his back, at which time I attempted to get his right arm behind his back to secure him in handcuffs, but he continued to resist.”
In the footage, McHugh can be heard ordering Garvey to stop resisting. He then brought Garvey to the ground and handcuffed him with the help of another officer.
Garvey was helped back onto his feet and escorted to a nearby cruiser. Officers eventually released Garvey upon learning that the car was actually registered to him, according to the report.
“I have a feeling it’s his car,” McHugh can be heard telling other officers after detaining Garvey.
The report notes that McHugh later spoke with the woman, who explained that she thought it was her vehicle since it was the same make, model and color. She clarified her mistake to bystanders upon realizing her car was still parked where she had left it, but by that point, the man who called 911 had already started following Garvey’s vehicle.
“Embarrassed and humiliated”
In a demand letter sent to the town, Garvey’s attorney and brother Peter Garvey accused McHugh of violating his civil rights.
Jonathan Garvey has worked at South County Hospital as a dishwasher for 30 years and lives in his own apartment less than a mile away from the school where he was detained, according to his brother.
“No crime had been committed, and the entire incident was a mistake,” Peter Garvey wrote in the letter. “Jonathan had simply driven past the yard sale on his way back to his apartment.”
“Jonathan was physically injured; placed in imminent fear of his well-being (thanks no less to officer McHugh drawing his firearm); emotionally damaged; financially damaged; embarrassed and humiliated as well as unlawfully detained,” Peter Garvey wrote in the letter.
Peter Garvey is demanding a $3 million settlement from the town for wrongfully detaining his brother.
Town Solicitor Michael Ursillo confirmed that the town has received the demand letter, but declined to comment further since it is a “precursor to filing a lawsuit.”
The South Kingstown Police Department conducted an internal review of the incident and determined McHugh “acted appropriately within the scope of his duties” while securing Garvey. The results of the review were also included in the demand letter from the attorney.
12 News reached out to the South Kingstown Police Chief Matthew Moynihan regarding the incident, but he declined to comment due to the pending litigation.