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Prov. Police release footage of officers punching, spitting at teen suspects

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Police Department has released highly anticipated body-worn camera video from July, showing multiple officers repeatedly punching at least two teenagers during an arrest following a police chase through the city.

The 41 separate videos released Wednesday totaled more than eight hours of footage combined. One video shows at least two teenagers getting punched multiple times. Police have previously said at least one of the teens was hospitalized.

At one point, the video shows one of the teenagers with his head and hands held back by an officer while he receives several blows to the face from another. In another chaotic moment, Officer Domingo Diaz appears to be repeatedly punching one of the juveniles on the ground until Diaz is physically restrained and pulled away by Sgt. Andres Perez.

The teen can be heard moaning and crying.

After one of the teens is picked up off of the ground and put into a sitting position, Diaz walks up and spits in his direction. The teenager’s head appears to be covered in blood. There’s also blood on the ground.

Two police officers, Diaz and Mitchel Voyer, are currently under criminal investigation for their use of force during the arrests. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Mayor Jorge Elorza last month called the force used by the officers “appalling.” Both officers have been suspended with pay.

“I fully support the suspension of these two officers, taking their guns away, taking them off the streets and holding them accountable,” Elorza said last month.

“I saw excessive use of force in some of the body cams that is both troubling and appalling,” Paré said at the time.

The city’s legal department had previously refused to release the footage when requested by Target 12 under Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act, citing the ongoing investigation and privacy rights of the individuals in the video. Target 12 has appealed that decision to Attorney General Peter Neronha, who authorized the release of the videos Wednesday.

“That authorization was given now that the investigation is substantially complete, that is, all witnesses to the incident that were available to the investigative team have been interviewed. Those witness interviews were concluded yesterday,” Neronha said in a statement.

“While those witnesses to the incident available to investigators have been interviewed, the investigation and evaluation of the evidence gained to date by this office, the Rhode Island State Police and the Providence Police Department continues,” he added. “We also remain in contact with our federal counterparts at the United States Attorney’s Office.”

No charges have been filed against the police officers. The teenagers have all been charged with criminal offenses, but their names have not been released because they are underage.

The incident in question began on the night of July 8, when police say the teens led police on an hours-long chase throughout the city in a BMW convertible, repeatedly pointing what turned out to be BB gun rifles at innocent bystanders and a police officer.

The chase ended on Salmon Street in the early morning hours of July 9, when the body-worn camera shows the teenagers’ BMW crashed into a fire hydrant.

The initial police report written after the incident says nothing about force being used against the teens, only describing them as being “brought to the ground.” But the video shows at least two of them were violently forced to the ground where they were held down, punched and handcuffed.

When one of the teens is moved and placed against a car, he slumps over to the side, appearing unable to hold himself up. Officers carry him to the sidewalk and wait for an ambulance to arrive.

The video also shows another one of the teenagers, who identified himself as the driver and a 15 year old, being interviewed in the back of a cruiser. An officer wearing a body camera asks him why they were driving around the city pointing a BB gun at people.

“Do you see the severity of this?” the unidentified officer says to the teen. “The whole state was after you guys.”

The teen insists he tried to get his passengers to stop.

“I kept telling them to stop [expletive] putting that [expletive] out the window and they don’t listen, they don’t listen, they don’t listen,” he said.

“You just should’ve pulled over, bro,” the officer says. “You’re the driver.”

Two BB gun rifles were found in the BMW.

Diaz was placed on leave two days after the arrest, Paré said last month, and then police invoked the state use of force protocol that “fully opened a criminal investigation” jointly with the R.I. Attorney General’s office and R.I. State Police.

Diaz and Voyer were both placed on paid suspension, which Paré noted is the “only option” at this stage, since the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights prevents unpaid suspensions longer than two days without triggering a disciplinary hearing process.

The leader of the Providence Police union on Wednesday night released a lengthy statement urging the public to wait for the investigation to be complete to pass judgment on the officers, while also slamming the teens’ actions.

“What will be lost in all this is the fact that three individuals made the conscious choice to buy weapons and use them to terrorize our city with a complete disregard for life and property, committing a number of serious crimes,” said Michael Imondi, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3.

“The investigation surrounding this incident should be full and complete before judgment is passed on any of the actions taken to facilitate the arrest of these subjects,” he continued. “As stated numerous times, when making an arrest, especially in a highly volatile incident with violent subjects who intend to resist arrest, it never looks good ‘on camera’ and people will be quick to judge. We remind people when viewing this incident like many others, officers have only split seconds to make a decision, one that all others viewing the videos have hours, days, weeks and in some cases months to critique.”

The head of the Black Lives Matter R.I. PAC, who had been calling on police to release the video, said a protest is being planned for Friday.

“The body camera video shows actions, yet again, by a police department that is flat out attacking our youth,” said Harrison Tuttle, the executive director. “It truly is appalling. I don’t think that any of us can look at that video and see that a child is lifeless, on the ground, and being spit on, and feel like that is protecting people.”

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

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is an investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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