PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A video is circulating of an arrest over the holiday weekend that shows two high-ranking Providence police officers taking down a suspect on India Street before one of them slams the man’s head into pavement.
The start of the brief video — which has been reviewed and independently verified by Target 12 — shows Captain Stephen Gencarella and Lt. Matthew Jennette wrestling Providence resident Armando Rivas, 21, to the ground, then handcuffing him.
Gencarella is then seen holding Rivas down with his knee as Jennette makes a call on his police radio. Soon after, Gencarella grabs Rivas by the hair and hits the suspect’s head on the roadway. One of the officers is then heard yelling “stop moving,” as Gencarella continues to hold Rivas’s head against the ground.
On Tuesday, Providence police leaders and R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office said they are investigating the incident, though the two officers have not been placed on leave.
“They were using force and it’s disturbing of what I have seen thus far,” Providence Police Commissioner Steven Paré told Target 12 on Tuesday. “There is a lot more we need to do on what led up to it, and perhaps witnesses can fill in some. But the 30-second clip I have seen is concerning and that is why we initiated a review along with the attorney general’s office so we can review it and look at policy.”
“Certainly, the AG will look at any potential violation of law,” he added.
Neronha spokesperson Blake Collins confirmed the department had reached out about the arrest and its circumstances on Tuesday.
“Pursuant to the Attorney General’s Use of Force Protocol, we have begun a review of the matter,” Collins said.
The officers first encountered Rivas while patrolling near the fireworks display at India Point Park on Sunday night, according to the police report written by Jennette.
Jennette said he was dispersing cars that were illegally parked watching fireworks, and called a tow truck for a black Jeep that had no people in it and was parked in the travel lane.
Rivas returned to the car while it was in the process of being towed and shouted profanities at the officers, Jennette’s report says, and tried to get into the car. The report says Jennette then tried to arrest Rivas, who was “wildly attempting to break free” as Jennette tried to restrain him.
Gencarella ran over to the scene, according to Jennette’s report, and joined the attempt to restrain Rivas. Jennette describes Gencarella as using a “palm heel strike,” a police technique, to Rivas’s head prior to him being placed in handcuffs.
The report does not mention Gencarella grabbing Rivas’s hair and slamming his head to the ground, which is seen in the video about 12 seconds after Jennette is seen putting handcuffs on Rivas.
The report claims Rivas was reaching for his waistband during the struggle. Police later found 1.5-inch knife in his waistband, according to the report.
Rivas was charged with five criminal offenses, including two counts of simple assault and or battery, resisting legal or illegal arrest, obstructing officer in execution of duty and disorderly conduct. He pleaded no contest to three of the four counts and the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, according to court records.
Providence police initially refused to make public a copy of the arrest report. When Target 12 went to the department to seek a copy at the records office shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, the door to the building was locked. A police official said the report had been put “under lock” and she had been directed not to give it out to anybody.
Police spokesperson Lindsay Lague said the department wouldn’t share the report pending the investigation, adding that the narrative will not be changed. “We are not altering the report,” she said.
After appealing the decision to Paré, Target 12 was told the department would release the report after all.
The altercation was captured on what appears to be a cellphone video, which is 51 seconds and does not show the entire incident. It’s unclear if any other video exists; Paré said the incident was not captured on the two officers’ body-worn cameras. He said Gencarella had not yet been issued a camera.
“Anyone in uniform should have a body-worn camera on and engaged,” Paré said Tuesday.
“It just came to light,” Paré said. “We’re on it, we will do a thorough review. Whatever the facts are, we’ll deal with that.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza tells 12 News he has reviewed the video and finds it concerning.
“This incident is under review by both the Attorney General’s Office and the Providence Police Department and the mayor will continue to receive further updates as the investigation continues,” the spokesperson said.