SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — Video evidence in an assault case involving a Rhode Island State Police trooper was released Monday after a district court judge granted a motion filed by the state.
The footage appears to show Trooper James Donnelly-Taylor repeatedly punching Lionel Monsanto inside a jail cell at the Lincoln Woods Barracks in February 2014 after he arrested Monsanto for allegedly driving on a suspended license.
Monsanto later sued the state, claiming Donnelly-Taylor used excessive force and violated his civil rights. In a 2014 interview, Monsanto showed Eyewitness News images of a black eye and redness in his face.
“He just kept punching, punching and punching,” Monsanto said at the time.
“I am profoundly disturbed by the criminal conduct of Trooper Donnelly-Taylor as is displayed on the video,” RI State Police Col. James Manni said Monday. “I must emphasize and ensure the public that such violent behavior is not condoned by the men and women of Rhode Island State Police.”
The state reached a $125,000 settlement with Monsanto this past December.
Donnelly-Taylor pleaded no contest to a simple assault charge and was given a one-year suspended sentence, though he was allowed to keep his job.
Manni said while he’s superintendent, any violence committed by a trooper outside his or her duty will result in termination. He would not, however, comment on whether he would’ve fired Donnelly-Taylor had he been in charge at that time.
“I can’t second guess what a previous superintendent did,” Manni said. “He’s presented a certain series of facts. Under that circumstance, he made a decision based on those facts.”
On Monday, Donnelly-Taylor’s attorney John Martin released a slow-motion snippet of the video to Eyewitness News along with a statement saying his client’s use of force was within reason since he was elbowed by the suspect beforehand.
“Viewing the video in slow-motion in this case clearly shows that the officer was assaulted by the suspect prior to using force,” Martin said. “The suspect was a convicted violent felon, was actively resistant throughout the arrest, and made repeated threats to the officer’s safety before the incident occurred.”
“Despite the conclusions from an expert witness retained by the government of the state of Rhode Island, the state repeatedly and unfairly portrayed the Trooper in the press as someone who committed an unjustified assault on a prisoner,” he continued.
Last month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Donnelly-Taylor claiming he was defamed as a result of the case.
Manni said state police are once again reviewing the case and “weighing all the legal and administrative options with legal counsel as to the future employment of Trooper Donnelly-Taylor.”