PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Attorney General Peter Neronha said Thursday that a Providence police officer was not criminally reckless and did not hit a moped rider during an October incident that left the rider critically injured and in a coma for months.
An accident reconstruction investigation found that the cruiser driven by Providence Patrolman Kyle Endres hit a stop sign, which struck the helmet of 24-year-old Jhamal Gonsalves, who was thrown from his moped when he crashed onto a sidewalk and hit a wall.
While the officer may have misjudged a turn just before the crash, Neronha said, the investigation found that he did not hit Gonsalves, tried to avoid crashing into him, and was not criminally reckless. Although Endres radioed to other officers to “box him in” seconds before the crash, there was no evidence that any officers acted on the call, the attorney general said.
“This is not a reckless driving incident,” Neronha said. “This is a tragic case, yes. Might it be negligence, perhaps. But what I cannot prove here is a reckless driving case.”
The lengthy news conference Thursday had the feel of a trial, with State Police superintendent Col. James Manni presenting detailed evidence, videos, photos, and findings from the accident reconstruction team’s 100-plus-page report and the attorney general’s 50-page report, while Neronha explained his office’s findings. Neronha shared the details and materials Gonsalves’ family before the news conference; the materials are posted on the attorney general’s website.
“After extensive examination of the scene, the vehicles, the damage, ... forensics, video footage from five different angles and numerous witness statements, the Rhode Island state police investigative team determined that the Providence Police cruiser did not strike the Yamaha scooter or its operator at any point,” Manni said. “Rather it was conclusively determined that Officer Endres’ police cruiser struck the stop sign on Bissell Street, projecting it downward onto the helmet of the scooter operator Gonsalves.”
The evidence of criminal wrongdoing wasn’t there, Neronha said.
“When it comes to driving offenses, the criminal bar is high. Finding fault with one’s driving, as happens hundreds of times a year in Rhode Island, might be sufficient to find civil liability yet, in the words of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, may still fall ‘far short’ of what is required to establish criminal recklessness,” Neronha said.
The family didn’t agree with his findings.
“What we have seen and heard supports the conclusion that the officers in the Providence Police Department caused the collision and are responsible for Jhamal’s injuries and the condition he is presently in,” said Jude Kerrison, the family’s lawyer.
The materials from the investigation were also shared with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which said in a statement Thursday that it also determined the evidence did not constitute a federal criminal offense, and there wasn’t sufficient evidence to obtain and sustain a federal conviction.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré said there would be an announcement soon about accountability of the officers actions before and after the crash. The Police Department is holding a news conference Friday morning.
Gonsalves’ parents and his lawyer said they will file a civil lawsuit next week against the Police Department and the officers involved in the crash, and seek unspecified damages. “It is an understatement to say that they are disappointed in the attorney general’s conclusions,” said Kerrison. “While the attorney general has closed his file, we will carry on. We will continue, and we will get justice for Jhamal.”
Gonsalves, who lives in Middletown, is recovering at a rehabilitative medical facility in New Jersey that specializes in disorders of consciousness and is undergoing intense therapy to try to “wake him up,” Kerrison said.
He remains unable to move on his own and uncommunicative, and his parents said they are facing medical costs and pressure from the health insurer and facility to have him discharged home as soon as next week. They said they are scrambling to make his small home wheelchair-accessible and trying to figure out how they will manage his care.
“We’re upset about the officers not being criminally charged, but it’s almost like it’s not even our top concern,” said his father, Mark Gonsalves. “Our top concern is this hospital sending our son home who’s still in a state where, it’s sickening. It hurts. We’re scared to death.”
Gonsalves was one of hundreds of off-road bikers and ATV riders who swarmed the streets of Providence on the afternoon of Oct. 18 in a group “ride-out.” Videos show throngs of bikers and riders filling the roadways, followed by Providence police officers.
Gonsalves, riding an unregistered Yamaha scooter with no license plates, was seen weaving in traffic and riding through red lights, along with the rest of the pack, Neronha said.
According to the report, Endres and two officers in another cruiser were following behind Gonsalves and the other bikers southbound on Elmwood Avenue when Gonsalves crossed over to the parking lane on the northbound side. The officers followed, but Gonsalves circled around their cruisers, waved his middle finger at them, and rode back into the southbound lane.
The officers followed, and Endres got on the radio and said, “Box this guy in.” As he spoke, another officer on Bissell Street began pulling out on to Elmwood. The other officer paused, then moved forward into the northbound lanes as Gonsalves was riding south. Gonsalves steered right toward Bissell Street.
Gonsalves’ scooter jumped onto the curb and the sidewalk and hit the wall, the report says. Endres’ cruiser drove onto the sidewalk and hit the stop sign, which crashed down onto Gonsalves’ helmet. Video and crash data from the cruiser showed that Endres hit the brakes hard and steered in an “emergency maneuver,” according to the report.
In the aftermath, body-camera videos showed confusion as more officers arrived on the scene. One thought Gonsalves, who lay unconscious, was overdosing and administered Narcan.
The crash ignited violent protests in the city that have left civilians and police officers injured and more than two dozen arrested, even as Gonsalves’ family pleaded for peaceful protests. Demonstrators accused the police of purposely striking Gonsalves’ moped and causing him to crash. Organizers of the “ride-out” said Gonsalves was a “professional, sponsored motocross rider ... who would not have been thrown off his bike if not for the police vehicle that aggressively hit him.”
Jeremy Costa, who organized the ride out of bikers and ATV riders last fall, said Thursday that if the police weren’t held criminally accountable, “we’re going to put on a production this city has never seen before.” Costa later backed off, saying there would instead be an event on Martin Luther King Day to raise money to help Gonsalves and his family.