PROVIDENCE — Two Providence officers are suspended with pay during an investigation into their use of force in arresting three local teenage boys who were allegedly speeding around the city for hours, shooting or aiming BB rifles at people, including a police officer.
The incident began in the West End during the night of July 8, with calls about the boys in a BMW convertible with tinted windows and Wyoming plates, pointing rifles at people and shooting at pedestrians and property throughout the city. It ended around 2 a.m. on July 9, after the BMW crashed into a fire hydrant near Manton Heights housing projects, with multiple police cruisers chasing after it.
Police officers “escorted” the 15-year-old driver and his passengers, two boys aged 15 and 16, out of the vehicle, according to a police report released Wednesday. One boy was taken to Hasbro Children’s Hospital for injuries from the crash, the report said. Police said they seized two BB rifles and a ski mask from the vehicle. It’s not clear whether the police knew during the pursuit that the weapons were BB guns, and not real rifles.
The Providence Police Department announced the suspensions of Officers Domingo Diaz and Mitchel Voyer on Wednesday, as part of an investigation involving the attorney general’s office and the state police. Diaz was hired in 2019, and Voyer came on in 2017.
Under a protocol established by Attorney General Peter F. Neronha last year, all police departments in the state must report incidents involving alleged use of excessive force and less-than-deadly force resulting in serious bodily injury.
Upon request Wednesday, the police department immediately released a two-page report written by Patrolman John Najarian, who arrested the driver. He wrote that the BMW had evaded state troopers, who were responding because the BMW matched the description of a vehicle in a “shots fired” call.
Najarian wrote that he spotted the BMW on the East Side and pulled up behind when the vehicle drove into a parking lot on North Main Street in the Mount Hope neighborhood. Najarian said one of the teens stood up in the convertible, turned around, and pointed a gun at him.
The BMW took off again, and Najarian’s report described the wild pursuit all over the city for several hours. State police and Providence officers trying to stop the teens’ BMW as it sped on city streets and wove in and out of vehicles on the highway, drove head on toward police cruisers, through red lights, and the wrong way on one-way streets. One officer said he jumped out of the way of the speeding BMW, and two other officers crashed into each other to get out of its way.
Police charged the three occupants, all of whom are juveniles, with two counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. The operator was also charged with reckless driving and eluding police.
Najarian’s report did not mention any use of force by the officers when they arrested the boys.
However, local activist organization Direct Action for Rights and Equality said in a Facebook post on July 17 that the teens’ families said the police “viciously beat all three boys until unconscious. One boy was reported dead by witnesses because he had been beaten so badly.”
DARE was urging its followers to come to Family Court on Monday to demand the release of one of the boys who was incarcerated at the Training School. The organization claimed that the boy had suffered head injuries from a car accident a year ago and that the police had assaulted him during the arrest and reopened an incision from recent brain surgery.
The organization said the other two boys had already been released from custody. Christopher Rotondo, DARE’s director of organizing, communications, and development, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday about the allegations made by the families.
Providence Police Union president Officer Michael Imondi said Wednesday that he thought criminals were treated better than officers by Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Pare and Mayor Jorge O. Elorza.
“While it is the administration’s right to put people on administrative duty for incidents they deem appropriate, we feel it would be more prudent to allow the facts and information regarding the investigation be vetted prior to any suspensions,” Imondi said in a text message. “However, the commissioner and mayor have shown themselves as not being fair and impartial when it comes to officers in Providence and have always chosen the heavy handed tactics and mindset of guilty until proven innocent. In all actuality, criminals are being treated better.”
Imondi added: “Every person involved in criminal activity will now fight with police, thanks to the mayor and commissioner’s actions. What do they have to lose... cops to the forefront garnering all the attention, and the criminal activity gets no headline.”
Wednesday’s announcement of the suspensions follows the high-profile incident of police officers responding to a disturbance involving neighbors on Sayles Street.
Activists alleged that police officers pepper sprayed 20 children, as young as a year old, without provocation. The public safety commissioner said that was inaccurate, and cell phone videos and body-worn camera videos have not corroborated the allegations, although police said some children were unintentionally hit.
The commissioner and mayor were critical about the language used by some of the officers. In the aftermath of an internal investigation, one veteran police sergeant retired, and two other officers were suspended without pay.