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RI POLICING

Providence Police Chief moves to fire veteran captain who assaulted handcuffed man

Captain Stephen Gencarella, a 25-year veteran, is charged with six violations of department rules and regulations. He remains under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office and the police department.

The Providence Public Safety Complex.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Providence Police Chief Colonel Hugh T. Clements Jr. is moving to fire a police captain who was caught on video smashing a handcuffed man’s face into the pavement last month and allegedly lied about his actions.

Captain Stephen Gencarella, a 25-year veteran, is charged with six violations of the department rules and regulations. He remains under criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office and the police department.

The investigations came after a 51-second cellphone video showed Gencarella assaulting the handcuffed man at India Point on July 3.

In an Aug. 3 letter to Gencarella, which was released to the media Friday afternoon, Clements said he is recommending that Gencarella either resign or be fired, because the assault violated policies on use of force, violated the man’s civil rights, as well as criminal law.

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The incident began with a Jeep Cherokee parked in the travel lane after the fireworks celebration. When Lieutenant Matthew Jennette decided to have it towed, the Jeep’s driver, 21-year-old Armando Rivas, allegedly swore at him, tried to get into the vehicle, and then resisted being arrested.

Gencarella ran over to help, and after a struggle, the officers succeeded in handcuffing the flailing man.

As Rivas lay face-down, no longer resisting, Jeannette picked up his police radio to make a call, while keeping one hand on the man’s back.

The cellphone video showed Gencarella grabbing Rivas by his hair and smashing his face into the pavement. There were audible screams.

Gencarella wrote in his after-action report that he used a “palm-heel strike” at the back of Rivas’ head, which the chief noted was not what actually happened.

On July 5, Rivas pleaded no contest to obstructing police, resisting arrest, and two counts of simple assault on the officers; he was placed on probation for a year.

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In the letter to Gencarella, Clements said he is recommending that Gencarella either resign or be fired.

If Gencarella refuses to leave, he can request a hearing under the Rhode Island Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which governs how officers are disciplined. A hearing panel of three law enforcement officers will consider the chief’s recommendation.

Gencarella is charged with violating the department policies of courtesy, truthfulness, obedience to laws and rules, standard of conduct, rules governing conduct, and demeanor.

Gencarella has five days, upon receiving the chief’s letter, to decide whether to resign or seek a hearing to fight his termination.


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