PROVIDENCE — Top officials in the city of Providence said they’re troubled by the force that police used in arresting three teenagers after a car chase around the city earlier this month.
Two officers have been suspended with pay as criminal and administrative investigations get underway into the incident.
“These two officers were taken off the street because of their behavior, and what I’ve seen in the body cam that was appalling,” said Steven M. Paré, public safety commissioner on Thursday.
Paré flatly called the force police used in the incident “excessive.”
Mayor Jorge O. Elorza echoed Paré's comments.
“It is appalling, it’s beyond upsetting, and I fully support the suspension of these two officers, taking their guns away, taking them off the streets, and holding them accountable,” Elorza said.
Officers Domingo Diaz and Mitchel Voyer have been suspended with pay in the investigation, the department announced Wednesday. The union representing police officers in Providence said the mayor and commissioner treated criminals better than police.
Citing the ongoing investigations, city authorities declined to describe in detail what happens in the videos, or to release the videos. The attorney general and State Police are also involved in the review, which is the new protocol in certain use-of-force cases.
Police said Wednesday that the incident began in the West End during the evening of July 8. People called to report boys in a BMW convertible with Wyoming plates pointing rifles at people — they turned out to be BB rifles — and shooting at pedestrians and property around the city. Hours later, as police cruisers chased it, the BMW crashed into a fire hydrant near the Manton Heights projects.
Police charged the three boys in the BMW — two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old — with two counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. The driver was charged with reckless driving and eluding police.
Now it is Providence police officers who are facing criminal investigation.
“I say to the public, if we are behaving unprofessionally, there will be consequences,” Paré said.
Paré and Elorza were speaking Thursday after a news conference at the Branch Avenue fire station, unveiling a new initiative to better deal with mental health calls.
Also Thursday, Paré said that a review into an incident late last month in South Providence has found the police’s use of force was justified. Officers were called to Sayles Street over reports that neighbors were feuding and in some cases fighting. A huge police response ensued, and officers sprayed pepper spray amid a melee caught on numerous body camera videos.
One officer, Sergeant Gregory Paolo, retired after body camera footage emerged in which he referred to a person as a “she-male” and made other derogatory comments. Officer Patrick Hourahan was suspended without pay for 10 days for escalating the situation by shouting, “Who wants some more?” after police sprayed pepper spray. And Officer Wilkens Georges also faces summary punishment — something less than two days of suspension — for pushing someone off his body camera in a way police described as aggressive.
Overall, though, Paré said the use of force was justified, and that police, contrary to some claims, never deliberately pepper-sprayed young children.
“It never is pretty when you have to use spray,” Paré said.
Meanwhile, one of the families involved in the incident, the Moore family, is planning to hold a news conference Friday to discuss the “retaliatory attacks” and racist abuse they’ve experienced since going public with their account. They called out in particular right-wing radio host John DePetro and a blogger.
In one incident, someone set a fire in a bush outside their house on July 19, according to a news release from local activists. A member of the family put it out with a fire extinguisher.
Asked about it Thursday, Paré said police are seeking video of the fire.
“We take it really seriously,” Paré said. “If we find the person that did it, they’ll be held accountable.”