Jose Batista, the Executive Director of the Providence External Review Authority (PERA) the only civilian police oversight board in Rhode Island, today released two videos from an April 19, 2020 incident that shows Providence Police Sergeant Joseph Hanley engaging in “assaultive behavior” towards a Black man who is handcuffed and face down on the ground. In the two videos, which were viewed and written up by PERA investigator Eugene Monteiro in August, Sergeant Hanley can be seen committing the following acts after the civilian victim is in handcuffs and lying on the ground in the prone position:
- Kneeling on the back of his neck/shoulder (Sergeant Hanley appears to use the open car door as support, lift his supporting foot off the ground bearing his full weight on the complainant’s neck and shoulder)
- Punch to the ribs (left side)
- Kick to the rib area
- Kick to the head
- Walking on the back of the complainant’s lower leg
During this time Sergeant Hanley can be heard verbally taunting the helpless man, saying such things as, “You wanna be a tough guy?”
The first video is from a cellphone, taken by a civilian from a window above the scene:
The second video is from a police body camera. Note that of all the police officers involved with the arrest of the two people in the video, only one police officer had turned on their body camera as regulations demand:
At his press conference, Director Batista explained that he was releasing the video despite the PERA Board voting to keep the public from seeing it. “These videos are public records,” said Director Batista, “and today I have decided to honor a couple of the public requests that I have received.”
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Batista said that he took a long time to come to the decision to release the video, and did not do so frivolously. Batista said he had tried to work within the system to get the video released, but was thwarted in his efforts. Disagreements between Director Batista and the PERA Board sprang up over his efforts to release the video, disagreements that resulted in the PERA Board investigating Director Batista and in the board voting not to fund the ongoing efforts of PERA Investigator Monteiro.
The more he advocated to release the video, said Director Batista, the worse his relationship with the Board became. “Although we’ve received upwards of 40 complaints, [PERA has] not been able to conclude an investigation in one,” said Batista. “And part of the reason is because of all the hurdles and challenges we’ve had to deal with.”
These hurdles include having to issue a legal subpoena to view the videos over Providence Police Department objections. Uprise asked about this, since PERA is represented by lawyers for the City of Providence, the same law department that represents the Police, the Mayor and the City Council. Batista said that an early attempt to secure funding for an independent solicitor was voted down by the board.
Ultimately the decision to release the video – “the straw that broke the camel’s back” – came in response to the Providence Police Department’s position that PERA could not be a full partner in the investigation of the incident that resulted in the serious injuries suffered by Jhamal Gonsalves. Rather than be allowed access as a full investigative partner, PERA was relegated to outside status, and merely provided updates about the investigation, not active participation in it.
You can watch Director Batista’s press conference here:
Providence City Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13) introduced Batista. “When you have the power of the state behind you, you should be held to the highest standard of transparency, accountability and truth,” said Councilmember Miller. “The incidents… are moments that ruin peoples’ lives… The best thing that can happen next is truth telling and hard conversations.”
Batista takes questions from the press:
The facts of the case, as presented in the PERA report by Investigator Monteiro:
“On April 19, 2020, at approximately 7:55 pm Providence Police officers responded to a domestic dispute at a home near the corner of Tell Street and Knight Street in Providence. This original incident resulted in the arrest of a 28-year-old Woonsocket man who was charged with domestic disorderly, obstruction and resisting arrest.
“According to OPR [Providence Police Department, Office of Professional Responsibility] and statements by the police officers on scene, there were several people in and outside of the reported location who were shouting at the police during the initial arrest. Among these individuals was the complainant.
“According to statements by the police officers on scene; after the original arrest was made and the individual was transported to Central Station, the complainant was allegedly walking away from the scene towards Tell Street, possibly videotaping and yelling at the police. (There is no Body Camera footage of this interaction.)
“OPR stated the decision to detain the complainant was made by Sergeant Hanley, which resulted in the arrest of the complainant for Disorderly Conduct and Resisting Arrest. Additionally, a woman who was with the complainant at the time was also arrested and charged with Obstruction.
“After the arrest of the man charged with domestic disorderly, Sergeant Hanley and and at least three officers followed the complainant to a car. From the report:
“Sergeant Hanley, Patrolman #2 and Patrolman #3 forcibly removed the complainant from the vehicle to the ground; face down in the prone position.
“Detective # 1 also on-scene approaches the vehicle on the driver’s side door and attempts to remove a female from the driver’s seat.
“Detective #1 and Patrolman #3 remove a woman from the driver’s seat of the vehicle. She is charged with Obstruction.
“Sergeant Hanley and Patrolman #2 secure the complainant in handcuffs. During the incident Sergeant Hanley can be heard several times verbally taunting the victim and repeating ‘you asked for this,’ ‘You want to be a tough guy,’ along with other vulgar remarks.”