Wyatt Detention Facility captain resigns after clash with protesters
By: News Staff
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WLNE) - Things took a scary turn at a protest outside the Wyatt Detention Facility Wednesday night when a pick-up truck drove into a group of people, and now the corrections officer at the center of it all has resigned from his position.
The group of protesters had been blocking the entrance to a parking lot in protest of the facility's relationship with ICE and the treatment of immigrants at the U.S. - Mexico border.
The roughly 600 protesters were part of the 'Never Again' movement which is primarily made up of Jewish people likening some of the current immigration issues to how Jews were treated during the Holocaust.
"Every time we ask ourselves would I have done something during the Holocaust? Would I have done something," asked protester Jack Silverman. "I want to make sure that when I tell my grandkids 'This is what was happening in the United States, and they say, 'Well what did you do?' I need to say that I did these things, and this is how it helped. Because I wouldn't be able to live with myself otherwise."
The protest had been peaceful for most of the night. Then around 9:45 P.M. our reporters heard screaming and saw people running.
The pick-up truck that barreled into the people was driven by Capt. Thomas Woodworth.
According to a statement by Wyatt on Friday, Woodworth has resigned from his position.
Videos of the incident show the moments Woodworth tried pulling into the staff parking lot at the facility, and blared his horn, before running his truck into several protesters.
Corrections officers came sprinting outside, asking people to back up from the vehicle. They then began pepper-spraying protesters.
"Correctional officers came out and physically pushed us out of the way and then pepper-sprayed us, which is burning my face right now," said protester Jared Goldstein.
It's unclear as of now how many were injured, though estimates were between 10-15.
According to Never Again RI, one person was taken to the hospital for their injuries.
"It's just unbelievable. It was just absolutely unbelievable," said protester Jerry Belair, who was hit by the truck. "This guy just charged and tried to injure people purposely."
It's not clear if anyone will be charged in what happened.
But the clash now prompting an independent investigation by the Attorney General's office and Rhode Island State Police.
The Attorney General of Rhode Island sent out a release Thursday morning, along with Central Falls Police saying that State Police are now investigating what unfolded last night.
The Wyatt Detention Center also released a statement Thursday afternoon saying that Warden Daniel Martin is conducting a 'top to bottom review of the incident.
The new question now is if Woodworth could face possible criminal charges because of his actions.
Andrew Horwitz is with the Roger Williams University School of Law who believes that Woodworth, in his opinion, broke the law the moment he arrived and hit the brakes while blaring his horn.
"You don't need physical contact for it to be an assault. Somebody needs to be in genuine or legitimate fear," Horwitz said. "[It's] assault with a deadly weapon."
That crime, according to Horwitz, is a felony, but there could also be other charges brought when corrections officers used pepper spray on the crowd.
"That was a law enforcement matter. That was not a matter for people who are privately employed," Horwitz said. "Based on what I've seen, those officers should likewise be charged with felonious assault."
Woodworth was also seen hitting the gas after being surrounded by protesters. A defense could raise the point that Woodworth felt threatened, according to Horwitz, but he said the ability to defend yourself is significantly lowered when you are the aggressor.
ABC 6 legal analyst Ken Schreiber also agrees with Horwitz, based on the video he's seen.
"I mean this absolutely was an assault with a deadly weapon," Schreiber said. "Why he wasn't arrested on site is beyond my comprehension."
Schreiber also adds that the conflict may have been avoided if the protesters were moved away from the entrance of the staff parking lot where the incident occurred. Schreiber said blocking that entrance is not allowed.
"I have no idea why the Central Falls Police Department allowed these demonstrators to block the entrance," he said.
Steven Brown with the ACLU of Rhode Island also calling the incident troubling, and said multiple people who were at the protest have reached out to the ACLU asking for help.
"Breaking up what was clearly a peaceful protest and then using the truck totally inappropriately raises serious civil rights issues," Brown said. "They have mechanisms to deal with that. It's not the indiscriminate use of pepper spray."
Governor Raimondo is also weighing in with a statement, saying that she's outraged and adding that protesters were simply executing their constitutional rights.
The Attorney General's office said they will look at all relevant facts before deciding how to proceed.
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