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Providence Police, attorney general investigating after video captures officer smashing handcuffed man’s face into pavement

The Police Department’s report differs from video taken at the scene, shows the supervisors struggling with the man next to parked vehicles

The Providence Public Safety Complex in Providence.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The Providence Police Department and the attorney general’s office are investigating an incident Sunday involving two police supervisors after one was filmed smashing a handcuffed man’s face into the pavement during an arrest.

Captain Stephen Gencarella, a 25-year veteran, and Lt. Matthew Jennette, who has been on the force for 17 years, were arresting a man at India Point Park after the fireworks celebration on July 3.

The Police Department released a police report written by Jennette late Tuesday night, after an open-records request from the Globe. Gencarella, who was seen on video assaulting the handcuffed man, went out on injured-on-duty leave Wednesday, a department spokeswoman confirmed. Jennette remained on duty, she said.


The incident began at around 9:30 p.m. Sunday as the officers were clearing traffic from the area. A Providence man, later identified as 21-year-old Armando Rivas, had left his Jeep Cherokee parked unattended in the travel lane, according to the police report. So, Jennette decided to have the Jeep towed.

Rivas returned, swore at the lieutenant, and got into his vehicle, according to police. But Jennette told him he was under arrest and took hold of Rivas’ left arm, according to police.

The police said that Rivas “flailed wildly, attempting to break free,” and Gencarella came running to the scene and tried to restrain Rivas, who they said flailed, kicked, and punched at them.

Gencarella struck Rivas in the head, which stunned him enough for Jennette to handcuff Rivas right hand. Then, both Rivas and Gencarella fell onto the ground, according to the police.

A 51-second video obtained by GoLocalProv and shared on YouTube shows the supervisors struggling with the man next to parked vehicles and behind the Jeep. Gencarella pulls the man down on top of him, and as the man tries to get up, Jennette grabs his arms and brings him down onto his stomach. Gencarella bends the man’s legs up, as Jennette handcuffs him.


Jeannette then picks up his police radio and appears to make a call, while keeping his left hand on the man’s back. The man remains lying face-down on the pavement as Gencarella reaches up and grabs the man by the back of the head, and then smashes his face down onto the ground.

There are audible screams on the grainy cell-phone video.

In the report, Jennette wrote that Gencarella used a “palm heel strike” to the back of Rivas’ head. “This, combined with LT Jennette forcibly removing Rivas’ left hand from his waistband was need to place [Rivas] into handcuffs,” Jennette wrote.

However, from the video, it appears that Rivas was already handcuffed when Gencarella grabbed his head and smacked it down.

In the police report, the lieutenant said that Rivas kept trying to reach toward his waist, where Gencarella later found an “M Tech” 1.5 inch serrated knife clipped inside the waistband. Rivas was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing an officer, and two counts of simple assault. His Jeep, which had a smashed passenger window and was unregistered, was towed away. Police said it matched the description of a vehicle at a disturbance in the West End.

A spokeswoman for the police department said Tuesday the Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating. The city said Wednesday there was no body camera footage.

The attorney general’s office said that it had also joined the investigation. Spokesman Brian Hodge said the police department notified the office about the arrest and circumstances on Tuesday.


Two years ago, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha expanded the office’s ability to review the use of force by police in Rhode Island to include less-than-deadly uses of force that result in serious bodily injury, and allegations of excessive force.

Law enforcement agencies also report the use of deadly force and in-custody deaths to the attorney general’s office.

The Providence Police Department, like many others, has a policy requiring officers to intervene when they observe another officer using excessive force. The department also has training on how officers can use force; officers are trained to avoid the head and heart, generally considered “red zones” because of the risk of serious injury or death.

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.