Law enforcement leaders, mayor promise ‘thorough’ investigation into police response on Sayles Street
PROVIDENCE, R.I (WLNE) – In a press conference Friday, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements promised a thorough and transparent investigation into the police response on Sayles Street Tuesday, where parents claim their children were beaten and pepper sprayed by police.
Col. Clements said officers were called to the neighborhood just after 6 p.m. after callers reported Sayles Street was “out of control” and that a group of people were threatening a 7-year-old.
He said the dispute had been going on for quite some time when the first responding officer arrived.
Clements said the hydrants were open and approximately 50 people were gathered in the street. Police have been called to that area dozens of times before, he said.
“The hydrants were open, it was a very hot, humid night, tensions were high, there were some disputes ongoing between two houses on Sayles Street,” Col. Clements said.
Around 7 p.m., the scene was under control, he said, but a half an hour later, officers had to call for more back up.
“They were angry, there was a lot of agitation, there was a lot of tension between the two houses, you can see on the videos we put out so far there were several attempts to get them back to their respective houses.”
Soon after, Clements said the situation escalated by a woman throwing a bottle towards the other group of people and that enraged another woman. That’s when officers made an arrest. Clements said every officer in the city was called to the scene by 8 p.m.
Mayor Elorza called it a “challenging situation.”
In total, five people were arrested; Four juveniles and one adult.
But it’s how some officers acted during the incident and while making arrests that is under scrutiny.
An hour-long portion of the body-worn camera footage from one officer was released on Thursday night.
“What I saw with my eyes are two things,” Elorza said of the footage. “On the one hand, you see officers that arrive, who act professionally and deescalate the situation, but you also see several instances of officers who used inappropriate language, did not deescalate the situation.”
Law enforcement leaders agreed, saying the language used by some officers was “inappropriate.”
“That’s not language that we accept, we shouldn’t be talking that way, and when we complete all this review, there’ll be responsibility, accountability for that. That’s not what we’re about,” said Commissioner Pare.
Families of those involved in the incident said in a press conference on Thursday that police used excessive force, claiming young children were injured with pepper spray and teenagers were beaten.
Pare called those accounts inaccurate, and said no children were directly pepper sprayed, but might have gotten some in their face due to the wind. He said officers had to use pepper spray as a tool to get people to back up when making arrests.
“Unfortunately young children caught some of that,” he said. “We have no evidence that spray was used directly at a child.”
The law enforcement and city leaders would not say whether or not the officers’ use of force was excessive, but said they’re investigating, and still reviewing the body-worn cameras of the other officers who responded.
“We have not seen all the video. There’s probably two dozen police officers with video, so that’s a part of our total review of this situation, so I can’t say at this point we came to a conclusion about any either use of force or behavior until it’s complete.”
Pare said the department has been in contact with the Attorney General’s Office but Attorney General Peter Neronha has not invoked the excessive use of force policy which would require his office to assist in the investigation.
The additional body camera footage is expected to be released in the near future.