PROVIDENCE – A Providence city councilor intervened when police officers were called about loud music at a friend’s bar downtown, demanding names and badge numbers so she could call the police chief and saying that residents who live there and complained about the noise “can [expletive] get over it.”
The scene outside Fortnight Wine Bar at about 9:30 p.m. July 22 was captured on video by multiple police body-worn cameras. The police department released the videos Monday afternoon in response to an open records request from The Boston Globe.
The councilor, Katherine “Kat” Kerwin, declined comment Monday, referring questions to a statement she released and posted on the council website the day after the episode.
In her statement, Kerwin claimed that Fortnight was playing music just loud enough for the patrons of the bar sitting outside to hear, “much less loud than the normal noise level outside on that block of downtown at night.”
She said the bar has frequently been harassed by police because the owners support the Black Lives Matter movement as well as proposals to defund the police. She wrote that bar workers and patrons have told her that patrol cars drive by and turn on their sirens, and one officer shouted expletives.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Pare said the videos spoke for themselves, but otherwise declined comment. Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. has said the officers responded professionally.
Fortnight, on Dorrance Street, has posters in its windows supporting Black Lives Matter, and has had banners painted “ACAB,” which stands for “all cops are bastards.” Last month, one of the owners and his girlfriend were charged with spray-painting “ACAB” on City Hall.
Kerwin, who represents Ward 12 – Smith Hill, part of the Valley neighborhood, and the Capital Center – has been outspoken about wanting to defund the Providence police.
Police went to the wine bar after getting a phone call from a man at 9:28 that night complaining about music being played in an outside alcove of the building that houses Fortnight.
“Somebody has set up electrical, musical, phono, and stereo system. It’s going on now, and they have never done it before,” the caller told the dispatcher in a recording released Tuesday at the request of the Globe. “I don’t know if its Fortnight itself that’s responsible ... but they’re playing the music really loud. I live across the street, and I’m trying to sleep, you know?”
The dispatcher told the caller that he would “send somebody by there right now and have them shut it down for you, ok? You try to get some rest and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Officers arrived at 9:33 p.m. and found a DJ playing in an open doorway, with music clearly audible outside. Officer Michael Sullivan was asking one of the owners whether she had a permit to play music outside when Kerwin stepped in and introduced herself as a friend of the owner and a city councilor.
“You mind if I get Chief Clements on the phone really quick?” Kerwin said. Then the owner and Sullivan started to argue after the owner asked Sullivan to please step back, and Kerwin got in the middle again, asking Sullivan for his name and badge number.
A second officer, Patrolman Darrin Anderson, asked Kerwin to step away, and she brushed him off: “I’m a councilwoman, please don’t tell me what to do.” She ignored another officer, Patrolwoman Jan-Delle Johnson, who asked her to pull up her face mask. Kerwin instead turned back to interrupt Sullivan talking to the Fortnight owner, telling him: “Can I get your name? I’m calling the chief.”
He told her his name and she walked off. When Sullivan also walked away, Anderson stepped forward to talk with the owner. Since she didn’t have a permit, she agreed to shut off the music, and Anderson said they wouldn’t give her a summons.
Kerwin returned with her phone in her hand, and Anderson explained the situation. “I understand your position. We work for the city, just like you. We’re just doing our jobs,” Anderson said. “I understand you want to get our names and our badge numbers, which is fine. My badge is right here, my name is right here, and this whole interaction is recorded. I want you to be aware since you want to be involved.”
By this time, there were multiple officers and a sergeant at the scene of what’s normally a low-key call for noise. “Is there a reason there are so many cops here right now?” the owner wanted to know.
“Mainly because every time we drive by here, people are hostile towards us, so it’s for our safety,” Anderson said.
The owner retorted: “What do you think about the Black and brown community right now?”
“I am Black,” said Johnson, the patrolwoman. “I’m a Black officer. But personally, every time I drive by, I have people yelling, [expletive] me, [expletive] the police, and a bunch of other obscenities, and so that’s why we have so many officers. It’s just for our safety.”
“You literally have a sign that says, ‘Kill a cop,‘ ” Anderson said. The owner said, “Kill a cop in your mind!”
Kerwin appeared unimpressed when the officers again said the only reason they were there was because residents had complained about loud music. “They live downtown, they can [expletive] get over it,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s ridiculous.”
She referred to the statement Monday when reached by the Globe, adding that the Police Department should release the body-worn camera video of Sgt. Joseph Hanley, who was charged in May with assaulting a handcuffed man.
“I am committed to standing up on behalf of all small businesses in our community,” Kerwin said in her statement, “particularly those who feel they are being targeted for constitutionally protected political speech.”