“Many questions remain unanswered” after State and Providence police officers killed Joseph Santos and injured Christine Demers when they fired more than 40 bullets into a pickup truck Santos rammed into an occupied car to elude capture, said the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island in announcing a five-page “preliminary analysis” of the incident.
Police offered too broad a justification for their deadly use of force, according the ACLU of RI.
“The suspect was trying to get away from the police-initiated chase, not intentionally seeking to cause harm,” says the report. “Under the PPD’s reasoning, deadly force would therefore seem to be justified in any instance of a high-speed pursuit, even where the police chase itself was what led to the danger.”
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told RI Future he has “absolute confidence that [police officers] used the proper use of force necessary to eliminate the threat of imminent danger or bodily injury and death. The vehicle was used as a dangerous weapon that put people in imminent danger of death.”
- Police shot at Santos and Demers more than 40 times for eluding, ramming car
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The ACLU report also says the police may have violated their own high-speed chase policies in pursuing Santos and Demers at dangerous speeds on congested sections of highway.
“The pursuit not only endangered the motoring public, but there are questions as to whether it conformed to the high-speed pursuit policies of the Providence Police Department (PPD) and the R.I. State Police,” according to a press release from the ACLU about the report. “Little attention has been paid to the question of the propriety of the high-speed chase that ultimately led to Santos’ death.”
The ACLU also chided Providence police in its report for not effectively utilizing body cameras during the incident. Three Providence police officers had body cameras on, but only was was activated. “Was this at least partly due to the PPD’s own policy, about which the ACLU has previously expressed concerns, governing the activation of the cameras?” asks the ACLU report.
While the ACLU had pointed reactions to how police handled the incident, the civil rights advocacy organization praised the Providence Police Department for how it handled the aftermath.
“The PPD is to be commended for quickly releasing video of the incident as well as the limited body camera footage obtained from one of the officers,” said the ACLU. “The PPD should also be commended for promptly releasing the names of its officers involved in the fatal shooting.”
The Rhode Island State Police, on the other hand, were not complimented by the ACLU of RI.
“On the other hand, the decision by RISP to withhold all troopers’ names until an investigation is completed represents a glaring and troubling lack of transparency,” says the report. “It also runs afoul of the Access to Public Records Act. A lawsuit that the ACLU handled ten years ago made clear that names of officers involved in shootings cannot be withheld from the public until investigations are completed.”
The ACLU report also says it is important to learn exactly why police were pursuing Santos and Demers, and how it related to a State Police car that was allegedly stolen earlier that morning.
“It is crucial to know exactly what the police bulletin, which went out to officers and prompted the initial stop of Santos’ car, said about escapee Donald Morgan,” according to the ACLU. “For example, did the bulletin note that the State Police were aware that the gun in the stolen police cruiser had been recovered and that Morgan was still handcuffed? In addition, the broadcast apparently referred to the suspect white pick-up truck as a Ford F-150, but Santos’ car was an F-250. Were police looking for the wrong model of car the whole time? Answers to questions like these are important in fully evaluating the actions by the police in this case.”