Providence, RI – A grand jury declined on Wednesday to criminally charge two Providence police officers accused of using excessive force when they arrested teenage boys who had been pointing BB guns at police and bystanders.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said on March 30 that his office could have charged the officers without an indictment but it decided to take the case before a grand jury because it was a really close call, WPRI reported.
“If I know that conduct is plainly criminal or not, then I don’t feel like I need to go there,” Neronha said. “But if it’s a close case, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
The attorney general said the two use-of-force experts that state hired had completely opposite opinions on whether the use of force had been appropriate, WPRI reported.
“So now you’re in a situation where you have one expert who says the use of force is appropriate, the other doesn’t,” Neronha said. “Under that circumstance, this is no longer anything other than a close case.”
The incident occurred in the early hours of July 9, 2021 after officers responded to a call about teenagers pointing a BB gun that looked like a rifle at people on the street, including one police officer, WPRI reported.
A BMW convertible with tinted windows occupied by two 15 year olds and one 16 year old fled police and led officers on a wild chase through Providence that went on for hours.
The pursuit ended when the driver of the BMW crashed into a fire hydrant on Salmon Street, WPRI reported.
The initial police report did not address the use of force against the teens but said officers had taken them to the ground.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said later “there were injuries as a result of not only the crash, but some use of force that was used by police officers,” WPRI reported.
Lindsay Lague, a spokeswoman for Paré’s office, said police “began reviewing the circumstances of the arrest of one of the vehicle’s occupants, including any injuries sustained and the use of force involved,” The Providence Journal reported.
“Late last week, we invoked the attorney general’s statewide use of force protocol, and pursuant to that protocol, an investigation was commenced by the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General, the Providence Police Department and the Rhode Island State Police,” Lague explained.
Paré identified the officers involved in the incident as Providence Police Officers Domingo Diaz and Mitchel Voyer, WPRI reported.
He said Officers Diaz and Voyer had been placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation was launched into the incident because the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights prevented unpaid suspensions longer than two days without triggering a disciplinary hearing process.
“I saw excessive use of force in some of the body cams that is both troubling and appalling,” the public safety commissioner said.
Bodycam video that was released in August showed Officer Diaz repeatedly punching one of the juveniles on the ground until he was restrained by Providence Police Sergeant Andres Perez, WPRI reported.
The video also showed that Officer Diaz later spit on the ground in front of one teen.
Bodycam also showed that Officer Voyer struck one of the teens on the shoulder multiple times, WPRI reported.
But after three days of presenting evidence to the grand jury, the jurors declined to indict either of the officers.
And then Neronha announced that no criminal charges will be filed against Officer Diaz or Officer Voyer, WPRI reported.
However, the internal affairs investigation into the incident is ongoing and both officers could still face discipline in connection with the incident.
Providence police said Officer Diaz was currently on military leave and Officer Voyer had already been returned to duty, WPRI reported.