PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Tyre Nichols’ death at the hands of several Memphis police officers has reignited a movement in Rhode Island to reform or repeal a state law that protects police officers being investigated for misconduct.
The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, more commonly known as LEOBOR, lays the groundwork for what information can and can’t be shared with the public when an officer is disciplined.
The existing law also allows officers a hearing before a three-member of panel of active or retired police officers before discipline beyond two days of unpaid suspension can be imposed.
Nichols was beaten for three minutes by officers who screamed profanities at him throughout the attack. He later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
The 29-year-old FedEx worker was on his way home when the officers pulled him over for allegedly driving recklessly.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis later revealed the department found no evidence to warrant the traffic stop, nor the use of force that followed.
Six officers have since been fired and five have been charged with murder in connection with Nichols’ death.
His death has sparked outrage nationwide, including in Rhode Island, where activists are urging the state once again to repeal LEOBOR.
“If what happened in Memphis happened here in the state of Rhode Island, those officers would be protected through the current law that we have in place,” state Rep. David Morales said.
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Morales, D-Providence, told 12 News LEOBOR reform legislation is already in the works in Rhode Island.
“I expect the bill to be introduced within the next several weeks,” he said.
R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio both support reforming LEOBOR and hope it will happen this year.
“It is an issue that has been discussed in the past few years, but no consensus could be reached,” Shekarchi said in a statement. “The House will work collaboratively with the Senate toward a successful resolution this year.”
Ruggerio remains hopeful that LEOBOR reforms introduced in the past will be acted upon this year, including expanding LEOBOR panels to include two neutral members, allowing police chiefs to discuss portions of the hearing process, and increasing the number of days a chief can suspend an officer without pay.
“I remain committed to these reforms,” Ruggerio added.
This won’t be the first time lawmakers have had conversations about reforming LEOBOR. The General Assembly discussed the law at length following the death of George Floyd, though the bill stalled in both the House and Senate.
Chief Sidney Wordell, executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, believes changes to the more than four-decade-old law are long overdue.
“One of [those changes] being that we can talk about an investigation, and talk about the status of an officer or officers when something does happen,” Wordell said.
When asked whether he believes LEOBOR will be up for a full vote this year, Morales said he’s hopeful.
“This year is different because of the fact that we are all coming together—the different stakeholders and advocates—to put in one single piece of legislation that reflects the needs of the communities and the feedback that has been received along the way, versus previous years when multiple bills were being introduced,” he said. “That’s enough of an excuse to hold the bills for further study.”
The Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee (BLM RI PAC) held a vigil Monday evening for Nichols, during which activists also demanded lawmakers take action.
“This is a systemic issue,” BLM RI PAC Executive Director Harrison Tuttle said. “This is going to continue to happen unless we do something about it and it doesn’t matter what state you are in, whether it’s Tennessee or Rhode Island, every single person has a role to play in making sure that people don’t die out on the streets because of police.”