NEWPORT, R.I. — None of the officers involved with the violent arrests of two men early Sunday were using the department’s body-worn cameras, and their official reports differ significantly from what appears on viral videos.
At the Globe’s request under the state Access to Public Records Act, the Police Department released the arrest reports on Friday afternoon, as well as a body-camera video from a supervisor who was elsewhere on the street.
The cell-phone videos shared widely on social media show a Newport police officer shoving bystanders and knocking one headfirst into a lamppost, then striking another passerby in the head and dragging him to the curb, where he punched the man in the head again and arrested him.
The officer said in his report that he was “startled” and thought the passerby could have a weapon in his pocket. “I raised my left forearm vertically in defense,” the detective reported. “[He] was in such close proximity to me that he made contact with it.”
Another officer punched a different man in the face while arresting him.
Two of the officers involved in the arrests were not assigned cameras; the third officer had a camera, but he logged that the battery died at 12:33 a.m. Sunday, so there was no footage of the arrest, according to Police Sgt. Gregory Belcher.
Instead, the Police Department gave the Globe a four-minute video from Sgt. Matthew Clark, who was among the officers posted outside the bars on Thames Street but not where the arrests took place. Clark’s video shows some intoxicated young adults milling about, while a group of officers who appear bored stand nearby.
There are nearly 80 officers on the roster of the Newport Police Department. However, the department only has 22 body-worn cameras, said Belcher.
The Police Department has said Dennis S. Engleson, 22, was arrested for throwing a bar mat and acting belligerently, while Christopher R. Adams, 22, was arrested after he “startled” a detective by walking up behind him while the other officers were arresting Engleson.
Both men were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction. They were arraigned and released to appear in District Court on Wednesday.
Their lawyers disputed the official police reports.
“Mr. Engleson vehemently denies the allegations and version of events as recited by the Newport Police Department and looks forward to clearing his name in a court of law in the near future,” said Engleson’s lawyer, Christopher Millea.
“There are clearly some major discrepancies between the written narratives and what is clearly shown on video,” said lawyer Craig Hein, who is representing Adams.
The police said the incident began around 1:21 a.m. Sunday, shortly after the bars closed. Officer John Sullivan was assigned to the area of Thames and Green streets for crowd control, when he saw Engleson throwing a bar mat at pedestrians, according to his report.
Sullivan wrote that he told Engleson and his friends to leave, and while the friends apologized, Engleson continued yelling and acting belligerently. Sullivan decided to arrest him for disorderly conduct and asked him for his ID.
Sullivan wrote that Engleson resisted being arrested and tried to pull away, so the officer pinned him against the doors of a Newport trolley and punched him in the face. Officer Neil Sullivan came to help, and they both brought Engleson down to his stomach.
Meanwhile, Detective Patrick Walsh arrived to help with controlling the crowd. And some in the crowd pulled out their cell phones to record what happened next.
One video shows the two officers pressing Engleson up against a Newport Trolley, while other young people gather behind them. When one bystander appears to touch one of the officers, that video shows, Walsh grabs the bystander and shoves him and a woman away, slamming them into another young man who hits a light pole face-first and falls into the street.
Walsh returns to where the other officers were arresting Engleson. Multiple cell-phone videos show Adams walking by and stopping to look at the police officers. In the videos, Walsh suddenly turns and strikes Adams him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Another video shared with the Globe shows Walsh punching Adams in the head again as he lies near the curb.
Officer John Sullivan wrote that Adams had been “actively fighting” with Walsh, who “brought the male to ground and a struggle ensued.”
Walsh’s report, however, does not describe Adams as “actively fighting” him.
“I then heard a crowd of people yelling behind me, with a male’s voice in close proximity,” Walsh wrote in his report. “I believed it to be the same two males I had just pushed away now returning to obstruct again. I turned to my left, and I was startled to see a male (Adams) within inches of me.”
Video from bystanders show Adams walking without looking at the officers until he is right beside them. His right hand is in his pocket. When he is struck by Walsh, another bystander yells, “Oh my God, bro! What did you do?”
Walsh recalled the scene differently.
“Adam squared his shoulders with me, and began removing his right hand from his pocket. I feared he was about to remove a weapon from his pocket, and act violently toward me,” Walsh wrote in his report. “I raised my left forearm vertically in defense. Adam was in such close proximity to me that he made contact with it. I struck him with an open hand, and brought him to the ground to arrest him.”
Walsh wrote that he hit Adams in the face again while he was on the ground because “he pulled his arms away from me, and attempted to get up,” the detective wrote. “My right hand struck his face, and then struck the cobblestone underneath. Adam now relaxed his arms.”
In another cell-phone video that shows the arrest, Adams does not appear to move. Walsh later sought medical attention, according to his report.
Officer John Sullivan tells the crowd to disperse crowd back, appearing to hold pepper spray in one hand.
One of the men being arrested kept saying, “I wasn’t doing anything.” Someone in the crowd yells at the officers: “You’re all on video, punching citizens in the face.”
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.