PROVIDENCE — Two videos released by Providence police Wednesday failed to answer the key question fueling racial tension and protests in the city: Did a Providence police cruiser ram into and critically injure a moped driver?
The two videos – one from a witness’s cell phone and one from a security camera near the crash site – show a large group of mopeds and motorcycles buzzing down Elmwood Avenue on Sunday, followed by police cars.
But neither video clearly shows whether the city police cruiser driven by Patrolman Kyle Endres collided with the moped driven by Jhamal Gonsalves, a 24-year-old Middletown man who remains in critical condition at Rhode Island Hospital.
In the cell phone video, the key moment is hidden by foliage. In the security camera video, captured by a camera on Bissell Street a block away from the incident, the moped is blocked by a building when the impact occurs.
“You don’t see the point of contact at all,” Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré said during a news conference Wednesday. “We have not had any video that shows the point of contact, the collision.”
Paré said the security video does show the cruiser pulling up right behind the moped and hitting a stop sign, which he said was “severed and taken down.” He has said the investigation is focusing on whether the stop sign slammed into Gonsalves or his moped after the sign was hit by the police car.
“You don’t see any impact or collision with our victim, Jhamal, or his scooter,” Pare said. “If there is any video out there with that information, we are seeking that, and we ask that you bring that forward.”
Since Sunday, social media attention has focused on another cell phone video, which shows the police cruiser following the small, black moped closely on Elmwood Avenue as it swerves around another cruiser and turns onto Bissell Street.
Amid the sound of squealing tires and a loud crash, the camera pans away for a split second before capturing the image of the moped driver hurtling onto the sidewalk – missing the crucial moment that may have shown whether the police car hit the moped. Almost immediately, bystanders started yelling that the police car had hit the moped from behind, causing the accident.
On Wednesday, the Providence police did not release video taken by the body cameras worn by more than two dozen officers involved in Sunday’s incident. But they said the department is reviewing 30 to 40 pieces of body camera video footage, and it will release that footage soon.
Paré confirmed that Endres, the patrolman at the wheel of the cruiser involved in the crash, did have his body camera on at the time. He said Providence police cars do not have cameras on their dashboards.
"You can’t have video everywhere at every angle,” Paré said. “We thought it was important to put cameras on our officers and not our police cars.”
Paré said the police department is not releasing details from witness statements right now in order to avoid influencing other witnesses, but reiterated that the department plans to release its findings and conclusions in the investigation in about two weeks.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of people took to the streets to protest, chanting “Justice for Jhamal!”
The protest began with members of Gonsalves’s family standing on the steps of the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue, urging protesters to remain peaceful. But it ended with more than 100 protesters throwing bricks, bottles, and fireworks at police officers.
Twenty one people (16 males and five females) were arrested, nine of whom were from Providence, Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said at the news conference Wednesday. They face charges such as disorderly conduct, obstructing, resisting arrest, and fireworks violations, he said.
Five Providence police officers were hit with objects, including one officer who went to the hospital with a “concussion-type injury,” Clements said. “Thank God he had a helmet on. It saved him.”
Clements acknowledged that Tuesday night’s protests come against the backdrop of nationwide protests over matters of race and policing. “There is a larger conversation going on in this country – and certainly it has hit home right here in Providence – that involves equity and justice,” he said.
The Providence Police Department will continue taking part in that “complicated discussion,” he said, and supports the peaceful protesting that took place between 6 and 8 p.m. Tuesday.
But the violence that broke out later in the night will not be tolerated, Clements said, praising Providence and state police officers for how they handled the situation.
Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza vowed that the city will provide a “thorough, complete, transparent investigation.” He said the attorney general’s office is taking a lead role in the investigation, focusing on whether criminal charges are warranted, and he said the Rhode Island State Police are conducting an “independent review” of the incident.
“I know that emotions are running high,” Elorza said. “There is a lot of anxiety. There is a lot of anger or distrust. And what I urge all of our residents here in the city of Providence is to please withhold judgment on exactly what happened.”
On Tuesday, Gonsalves’s stepfather, Bernard Tribble, criticized Elorza and Governor Gina M. Raimondo for failing to call the family to offer support. The mayor said he left a phone message for Gonsalves’s father, Mark Gonsalves Sr., and did not go to the Knight Memorial Library on Tuesday night because he “didn’t think that would be helpful.”
In an interview Wednesday, Tribble said he was “very disappointed” that Tuesday night’s protests had ended in violence.
“That had nothing to do with Jhamal’s family,” he said. “We just wanted a peaceful protest.”
Tribble said family members left the protest after “outside agitators” began stirring up the crowd as it approached the police station. He said “the whole agenda changed” and chants of “Justice for Jhamal!” turned to cursing the police.
Protesters have raised questions of systemic racism, and Tribble explained the Gonsalves’s mother is Narragansett Indian and his father is of mixed race – Black and white.
Tribble said Gonsalves remained in critical condition on Wednesday. “Jhamal’s brain swelled up for the worse and he has two tubes in his head to drain fluid,” he said. “If it keeps swelling, they will have to remove part of his skull.”
He said a GoFundMe page has been set up to pay for Gonsalves’s medical expenses. As of Wednesday afternoon, people had donated more than $28,100.