PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence police union is vigorously pushing back on allegations of racial profiling made by a Providence firefighter.
Terrell Paci, 23, claimed live on WPRI 12 on Friday that police in the capital city approached him earlier in the week with guns drawn while he was in uniform in front of his fire house.
Paci shared his story through tears while at the Black Lives Matter rally in Providence.
“I was dressed in full uniform and had my radio in hand,” Paci said. “I was like, ‘I’m a firefighter, I’m PFD, I’m one of you’ and they still kept approaching the vehicle with guns drawn.”
Providence Firefighters Union president Derek Silva defended Paci in a statement, arguing there was work to be done to change the culture in the police department.
On Saturday, the Providence Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement in response, saying they “wholeheartedly disagree” with the content of this firefighter’s statement and the firefighter union’s message.
“At no time did the officers display any act that could be construed as racial profiling,” the statement from the Providence Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #3, read. “They were simply responding to and investigating an incident based on the information given to them from an on-scene complainant. All reports, racial profiling cards, and stop survey cards were completed. The transparency of their actions is beyond reproach.”
The union accused Paci of embellishing the story to “grab a headline.”
“It is sad and disgusting that a Providence firefighter would distort the truth about our police officers, and that his opportunistic union president would recklessly publicize these mistruths in an environment when police are under attack. The only injustice here is that by the firefighter in question and his union president,” the statement concluded.
Paci said he was outside of the Messer Street fire station around 11 p.m. on June 3 talking to a female friend who had brought him food when officers approached them with guns drawn.
“After identifying me as a Providence firefighter, one officer asked if I had a gun in the vehicle,” he continued. “I said, ‘no I am not allowed to carry a firearm while on duty, I am an essential worker and I’m not breaking curfew.’”
Paci said the officers asked to search his friend’s car and she granted them permission. Later that night, Paci said a Providence police sergeant came to the fire station to apologize for the two officers’ actions.
Mayor Jorge Elorza said in statement Saturday that Paci’s recounting was “deeply, deeply disturbing.”
“We have opened an investigation into this incident and it will receive our full and immediate attention,” Elorza said. “No one should have to experience something like this and we apologize on behalf of our city for the trauma it has caused. We stand with Firefighter Paci and thank him for his unwavering dedication to a city that he protects everyday through his service.”
Capt. Roger Aspinall, an executive board member with the police union, spoke with WPRI 12 on Saturday evening.
“We saw the interview done on your news media,” Aspinall said, “And the first thing that we would do is conduct an investigation which is go back and talk to the officers and the officers accounts are a little different than what this firefighter had to post, and his accusations are hurtful and they’re not helping to diffuse the situation here in the community.”
“There was no racial profiling,” Aspinall said. “This is wrong….We didn’t do anything. We did our jobs. We did everything – these two young everything who did everything the way they should were perfect.”
A Providence Police spokesperson said the department became aware of the incident on Wednesday and began investigating. She declined to name the officers or released the body camera footage until the investigation is complete.
Aspinall said he has reviewed the video and it will show the events did not unfold as Paci described.
Aspinall said a police sergeant did go to the station later in the night to discuss what happened but did not apologize.
“I’ve talked to that sergeant, that sergeant clearly denies that allegation,” Aspinall said.
He also said Paci was not in full uniform, but was instead wearing blue pants and a blue shirt and identified himself to police by holding up a baseball cap with the “Providence Fire” logo.
“How he identifies himself to the officer is he holds a baseball hat with the fire logo on it and says, ‘I’m a fireman,'” Aspinall said, saying that the officers asked Paci to stay in the car. “How many people can buy a baseball hat? If I go on eBay right now or Amazon, I can buy a Providence fire hat, no doubt in my mind.”
In their statement, the union said the officers were dispatched that night for reports of a man breaking into a business on Cranston Street. When they arrived, the officers were told by witnesses that a man ran from the area, according to the union’s account.
Later, another man told police that two people in a red vehicle pulled up to them, showed a gun and a knife and demanded money. The victims believed that the red vehicle parked in front of the Messer Street firehouse was the same car containing those two armed suspects, according to the union’s account.
The union said the officers then approached the red car with their weapons drawn as they are trained to do when conducting a car stop potentially involving a firearm.
“The subjects exited the vehicle and were identified as a Providence Firefighter and female
occupant,” the union statement reads, “And at this time the officers immediately re-holstered their firearms.”
The union said the officers explained why they were there, and one officer asked the driver if he could search the front compartment of the vehicle “out of an abundance of caution,” and the female operator consented to the search.
“The officers concluded the stop and apologized for any misunderstanding or inconvenience,” the statement said.
The union said one officer left the scene and then a third officer responded to the firehouse to gather the final information to complete his report.
Asked for a response to the police union’s statements, fire union president Derek Silva said: “We stand with our brother.”