PROVIDENCE — A Cranston man who bragged about helping to destroy a Providence police cruiser during a violent demonstration last June pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge that will send him to federal prison.
Nicholas Scaglione, 31, was somber during a remote hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Mary McElroy as he pleaded guilty to malicious attempt to damage or destroy the vehicle.
Scaglione was seen jumping on the cruiser and trying to flip it over. When another man poured accelerant inside the cruiser and tried to get a fire started, Scaglione sprayed a liquid into the passenger side, and the vehicle was engulfed in flames.
He will be sentenced June 16. The charge carries a mandatory minimum term of five years in prison, with a maximum of 20 years, a maximum $250,000 fine, and supervised release of three years.
The destruction of the Providence police cruiser is a federal case because the Providence Police Department receives federal financial assistance, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Daly told the court.
The June 1, 2020, demonstration started late that night in reaction to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer a few weeks earlier. Unlike other protests, however, this one quickly turned chaotic and violent, as hundreds of people clashed with Providence police officers and state troopers, smashed windows, looted stores, stole vehicles, and set things on fire.
A Providence police cruiser was left parked in the middle of Finance Way, several yards from Providence Place Mall, where dozens of police officers and state troopers were trying to hold back a crowd that was throwing objects and shoving their way inside.
Multiple videos, livestreams, and photos of the scene showed some in the crowd turn their attention to the cruiser. Scaglione, in a black and white “Calvin Klein Jeans” sweatshirt, a black hat on backwards, and black-and-white bandana over his face, was seen among them.
Several videos from witnesses at the scene captured him jumping on top of the cruiser as people cheered, trying to help others flip it over, and then spraying an accelerant inside and lighting it on fire. “Soon the flames engulfed the cruiser and left it unrecognizable,” Daly told the court.
Scaglione was identified by several witnesses, who told the FBI that they’d known him for years. At least one said they were disgusted with his actions, according to court records. In text messages seized by the FBI, Scaglione showed he was angry at law enforcement and “willing to do it again,” Daly said.
Scaglione texted a photo of himself on top of the cruiser to one witness, according to court records. “But that police cruiser that went up in flames last night can be replaced,” Scaglione texted, according to court records. “I was pissed. I’ve been pissed. That was pent up years of rage and frustration with the way I’ve seen and been treated by police. That cop car can be replaced. People’s lives cannot... Then I go out fighting and standing up for s**t I believe in. Cuz I know for a fact if it was you or anyone else I was close to I’d burn the whole police force down and not even blink.”
Scaglione told a witness that he thought his father would be proud of him, because the police had harassed his father and him.
Until now, Scaglione had a minor criminal record in Rhode Island, with misdemeanor domestic assault and reckless driving convictions and suspended license charges.
Of the dozens of people arrested during the riot on June 1 and into the early hours of June 2, only Scaglione and Luis Joel Sierra, 34, who is also accused of torching the cruiser, are charged with federal crimes. Sierra’s case is still pending.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.