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Police accuse members of amateur Warwick rap group of inciting Providence Place looting

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Police have charged two members of an amateur Warwick rap group with inciting the looting of the Providence Place mall earlier this month, as law enforcement continues combing through video and seeking more suspects involved in the violence and destruction throughout the city.

The looting in the early morning of June 2 was one facet of the overnight riots that began with a group chanting “Black lives matter” in the street outside the mall shortly before midnight.

The crowd quickly turned to throwing rocks, looting businesses and setting vehicles on fire, leading police to arrest more than 65 people on the scene.

More arrests have been made in the days and weeks since, among them Joshua Martinson, 21, and William Pallazo, 23, whom police accuse of egging on the crowd to storm the mall. The two Warwick men are members of a group called Waraq which posts rap videos online that appear to be recorded in suburban backyards and basements.

In an affidavit supporting an arrest warrant issued on June 5, police say they used surveillance video and social media videos to identify the two as allegedly inciting a riot.

“The video depicts Pallazo and Martinson loudly instructing and encouraging protesters to commit violent and lawless acts,” the affidavit reads. “They then lead the crowd, storming off in the direction of the front doors of the mall, where the protesters gain entrance by force and begin destroying property and looting.”

Police have not accused the two of actually stealing anything from the mall, but claim the videos show them “clearly inciting riots.”

A Facebook Live video recorded at the scene shows Martinson and Pallazo shouting to the gathered crowd.

This still image from a social media video shows Billy Pallazo, left, and Joshua Martinson, center, shouting to the crowd outside the Providence Place Mall after midnight on June 2. (Courtesy: Nathan Jeffrey)

“Let’s go, come on!” Pallazo shouts. “This is bigger than something I could ever be a part of.”

Pallazo has already pleaded no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct and was sentenced to a one-year filing, which means the case will likely be dropped if he stays out of trouble for a year. Martinson pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct and vandalism and is due back in court in July.

Pallazo and Martinson did not comment on the charges when reached by Target 12. (A third member of Waraq, Devon Sweet, was also arrested on the scene for disorderly conduct but is not accused of inciting the riot.)

The rap group — which police describe as a “gang” in the affidavit — has 20,000 views on a recent YouTube video, posted June 13. Its videos frequently feature members of the group suddenly jumping out of items like sheds or an upturned kayak.

“What they call themselves, I couldn’t care less,” Providence Police Maj. David Lapatin told WPRI 12. “We’re going to hold them responsible if they want to come in as a group, or individually, into our city to cause this kind of chaos.”

Police are still investigating the riot, currently searching for arson suspects who torched a Providence Police cruiser. Police previously charged a Warwick woman with damaging the cruiser by jumping on top of it.

“These people are pretty surprised — come three weeks later they’re in bed at six in the morning and we’re knocking on their door with a warrant,” Lapatin said. “And it’s going to keep up.”

Rhode Island State Police, which is also part of the investigation, arrested three people last week for allegedly damaging a dozen state vehicles in the Department of Children, Youth and Families parking lot on Friendship Street. One of the vehicles was burned, while others had windows smashed and other damage.

State Police Maj. Timothy Sanzi said two of the suspects are 16 and 17 years old, and cannot be identified because they are juveniles. Both are charged with conspiracy and arson.

The third arrest was 27-year-old Jeremy Collazo, who according to Sanzi faces 10 counts of vandalism, disorderly conduct and conspiracy.

Court documents say Collazo drove up the DCYF lot while the teens were jumping on top of cars, and allegedly handed them a baseball bat from his truck which was used to break the vehicles’ windows.

Reached by phone for comment, Collazo shouted vulgar and sexist remarks at a Target 12 reporter that cannot be published. Collazo has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The ongoing investigation — which also includes the FBI — involves seeking the original organizers of the events. Lapatin noted that detectives have evidence that the looting was planned in advance, including suspects going to the mall ahead of time to pick out which stores to target.

In the immediate aftermath of the events, State Police Col. James Manni said it appeared to be organized by out-of-state actors, including possible anarchists or antifa groups.

But no one arrested so far has been identified as tied to antifa, State Police Lt. Col. Kevin Barry confirmed, though the investigation continues. He noted that police saw numerous license plates from other states on the scene — including Connecticut and South Carolina — which left swiftly.

“They come in, they get it going and they leave,” Barry said. “They create the chaos and then they get out of there.”

The vast majority of those arrested have been Rhode Island residents.

Gov. Gina Raimondo was among the leaders who sought to separate the riot from other peaceful protests that have taken place in Providence.

“Make no mistake about it, what we saw last night was not a protest, what we saw last night was an organized attack on our community at a time when we are already vulnerable,” Raimondo said on June 2.

Lapatin said there did appear to be some people who came to downtown Providence to “legally protest” that night, but others came specifically to incite a riot and to vandalize.

He said so far police are finding mostly suspects from within Rhode Island, and future suspects could face federal charges.

“It’s far from over,” he said.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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