NEWPORT, R.I. — The two men punched by Newport police during a violent arrest in late June appeared to have facial injuries in mugshots released Thursday, after a public records appeal by the Boston Globe.
The attorney general’s office and the Newport Police Department are continuing to investigate the arrests from June 26, which was captured by bystanders in cellphone videos that went viral.
The videos show Detective Patrick Walsh 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.
Days after the arrest, the police department released the arrest reports, which differed significantly from what the videos showed. At the Globe’s request, the department later released video from a sergeant’s body camera — even though the sergeant wasn’t at the scene, and the officers involved in the arrests either weren’t wearing cameras or their camera wasn’t working.
Police Sgt. Gregory Belcher denied the Globe’s requests for the men’s mugshots in July, citing a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and the ongoing investigation.
The Globe appealed to City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. on Wednesday, arguing there was a heightened public interest in this case and that the men’s images had already been shared in viral videos.
While Nicholson said he supported the sergeant’s decision to deny the request for the mugshots, the city manager decided to release the mugshots Thursday afternoon because of the “unique set of circumstances.”
“I am cognizant of the facts and circumstances surrounding the June 26, 2022 arrest of these two individuals which have led to a unique level of public interest in this matter. I understand their images have been disseminated in the press in the form of cell phone videos. In light of the heightened public interest and diminished privacy interest created by the viral videos, I am sustaining your appeal,” Nicholson wrote.
“I would reiterate that these are extraordinary circumstances and this release of the mugshots will not reflect a change in policy for the City which will continue to apply the appropriate analysis and balancing tests in complying with any future requests on a case by case basis,” he added.
The Police Department has said Dennis S. Engelson, 22, was arrested for throwing a bar mat and acting belligerently, while Christopher R. Adam, 22, was arrested after he “startled” Detective Walsh by walking up behind him while the other officers were arresting Engelson.
Officer John Sullivan wrote that Engelson resisted being arrested, so the officer pinned him against the doors of a Newport trolley and punched Engelson in the face.
Sullivan also wrote that Adam had been “actively fighting” with Detective Walsh, who “brought the male to ground and a struggle ensued.”
However, Walsh didn’t report anything about Adam fighting with him; the detective wrote in his report that Adam “startled him.”
“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.”
However, videos show Adam was walking by as officers were arresting Engelson and didn’t look over until he was right beside them. His right hand was in his pocket when Walsh suddenly turned and struck him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Another video shared with the Globe shows Walsh punching Adam in the head again as he lies near the curb.
Both were charged with obstructing police and resisting arrest; Engelson was also charged with disorderly conduct. Their cases are pending in Newport County Superior Court.
In their mugshots, Engelson has cuts and some facial contusions, and Adam has a black eye, swelling, and cuts on his face.
“What can be seen in these photos is just the beginning stages of the injuries my client sustained that evening after having been assaulted. The injuries seen here are consistent with what the videos from that evening have shown,” Adam’s lawyer, Craig Hein of Newport, said Thursday. “My client vehemently denies the allegations that have been made against him, and we look forward to our day in court.”
“The picture speaks for itself,” said Cranston lawyer Christopher Millea, who is representing Engelson. “The matter is still pending in Newport Superior Court, and my client looks forward to resolving this matter in a Court of Law.”