PAWTUCKET, R.I. — A newly released investigative report about a fatal shooting by Pawtucket police in 2016 shows some discrepancies between what Pawtucket city officials said and what the investigation found.
The 222-page report of police and witness statements regarding the shooting of 24-year-old Dominique Silva was posted online late Tuesday by the Rhode Island Accountability Project, a nonpartisan group that collects and posts internal affairs reports from police departments in Rhode Island.
Officer Julianne Borsari was responding to a call about an armed drug robbery on the afternoon of March 24, 2016, when she saw Silva, who appeared to fit the description of one of the suspects, walking by.
At the time, police said that Silva had pointed a weapon twice at Borsari — when she first drove up to him in her cruiser and when she got out and chased him. Police said that Borsari yelled for Silva to drop the gun, and then shot Silva when he turned around and pointed it at her the second time.
Silva collapsed on the sidewalk on busy Webster Street; police said at the time that his weapon — a plastic BB gun — fell next to his body, and that he had bags of marijuana on him. Borsari, who’d been on the force for less than two years, was alone when she fired the shots; other officers responded shortly afterward.
But the investigative report released Tuesday night offers new details, some of which contradict what officials said in 2016:
- Borsari told investigators and prosecutors that Silva pointed the weapon in her face while she was in the cruiser. When he ran off, she said she pursued him, but she was behind him and didn’t see where he took the weapon from. She said he was pulling it around to the right, and “I thought he was going to shoot and kill me.” She said he appeared to raise the weapon above his right shoulder, but hadn’t turned completely around to her.
- Witnesses saw Borsari with her gun drawn, but didn’t see Silva holding a weapon while he was fleeing. Two witnesses who said they saw Silva running from Borsari said he was reaching into the front of his waistband and starting to pull a weapon “out past the cover of his body,” when the officer shot him. The witnesses said Silva had turned slightly, but was not facing Borsari.
- The BB gun landed in the road and broke. One of the first officers at the scene picked it up and put on the sidewalk where Silva had fallen. Officer Zachary Day told his supervisors that he’d moved the weapon so it wouldn’t get run over by traffic.
- Borsari had fired her Glock six times at Silva, with rounds hitting him and a utility pole and also landing in the busy roadway, according to the investigation. Several witnesses told investigators that they thought Borsari was justified in shooting him — even though one thought she was shooting Silva in the back. One witness said he came forward because he believed “she had to shoot him ... the gun looked so real.”
The incident was investigated by Pawtucket police, state police, and prosecutors from the attorney general’s office, as is standard during officer-involved shootings in Rhode Island.
There have been 14 fatal officer-involved shootings in Rhode Island since 2006 — half of them, including Silva’s, in Pawtucket. In every case, a grand jury has found the shootings to be justified.
The Pawtucket Police Department’s policy authorizes officers to use deadly force to protect their own lives and the lives of other people, when the officer has a “reasonable belief [of] an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.” Police may also use deadly force to capture or prevent the escape of a suspect who represents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others.
Silva’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Borsari, Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, and Pawtucket Police Chief Tina Goncalves in March 2019. Grebien was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
When the shooting occurred in 2016, the mayor and police leadership had balked at releasing any information about the incident, and didn’t speak with Silva’s family until three weeks after his death. The police also refused at first to release a report about the arrest of a Central Falls man who allegedly planned the drug robbery with Silva. (That man told a detective that the man they intended to rob had a real gun, while Silva had a BB gun.)
Accountability Project co-founder Lynn Farinelli, who lives in Pawtucket, said it took several years and a complaint to the office of Attorney General Peter F. Neronha to get the investigative report.
“I took it on because I grew up in that neighborhood and we saw the video the day it happened. To see a young man my son’s age laying on the ground dying ... it really crushed me,” said Farinelli.
Farinelli first made a request in 2018 under the state Access to Public Records Act, but was denied by Pawtucket City Solicitor Frank Milos, on the grounds that incident reports weren’t public without an arrest. Milos also wrote that even redacted reports would be an invasion of personal privacy.
Farinelli complained to attorney general’s office, which found that the city of Pawtucket violated APRA.
“There can be no doubt that an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of a private citizen invokes a significant public interest,” Special Assistant Attorney General Kayla O’Rourke wrote on behalf of Neronha. “There is a significant public interest in the public knowing under what circumstances the police use deadly force in the commission of their official duties.”
Still, the city of Pawtucket delayed for several weeks before finally releasing the full report to Farinelli last year. She said she decided to post the report Tuesday night after requests from the media and residents.
“There are just glaring errors in the report, inconsistencies, and downright lies,” Farinelli said. “I don’t believe Borsari even knows what happened as far as why she pulled the trigger on him. I think she got scared and ... she was alone, she wasn’t calling for backup. Probably she questions why it went down the way it did.”
This issue still stings in Pawtucket. In March, a coalition of local groups and residents called Community United 4 Positive Change requested an “updated public statement” about Silva’s shooting, as part of a list of demands to reform local policing and help forge trust between residents and police.
Farinelli said she hoped that releasing this report to the public would raise awareness about a lack of transparency and accountability within the Pawtucket Police Department.
“I want justice for Dominique Silva, making people accountable for their actions,” Farinelli said. “Whatever that looks like.”