Providence, RI – The Providence police captain who slammed a handcuffed suspect’s head into pavement during an arrest captured on a bystander’s cell phone was charged with assault on Thursday.
The Providence Police Department (PPD) announced on Aug. 11 that PPD Captain Stephen Gencarella, a 25-year veteran of the force, had been charged with simple assault in connection with the arrest of 21-year-old Armando Rivas, WPRI reported.
The Providence police chief, Colonel Hugh Clements, has already notified Capt. Gencarella of his intention to terminate him for multiple violations of department policy.
The veteran police captain has requested a hearing under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR), WPRI reported.
But that hearing will not go forward until after Capt. Gencarella’s criminal case had been adjudicated.
In the meantime, the police captain remains on paid injured-on-duty status earning $105,730 a year while he recovers from injuries sustained during the arrest of Rivas, WPRI reported.
The police department has not disclosed the nature of Capt. Gencarella’s injuries.
The incident occurred at about 9:47 p.m. on July 3 after the fireworks ended at India Point Park, the Boston Globe reported.
Providence police said Rivas had left his Jeep Cherokee unattended and blocking the travel lane of an access road to Route 195 West as officers tried to clear the area after the event.
The police report said that PPD Lieutenant Matthew Jennette, a 17-year veteran of the police force, gave the driver a 10-minute grace period and then told a tow truck to remove the offending vehicle, the Providence Journal reported.
That was when Rivas returned to his vehicle, according to the police report.
Lt. Jennette advised him that his vehicle was being towed and Rivas ran around the vehicle and jumped into it through the passenger side, the Providence Journal reported.
When the lieutenant told Rivas to get out of his vehicle, police said the suspect pushed Lt. Jennette’s arm away and unleashed a torrent of profanities at him.
Lt. Jennette told Rivas he was under arrest and took hold of Rivas’ left arm, the Boston Globe reported.
The police report said Rivas ““flailed wildly, attempting to break free.”
That was when Capt. Gencarella jumped into the fray to assist Lt. Jennette.
Police said Rivas flailed, kicked, and punched at the officers, the Boston Globe reported.
The police report said that Capt. Gencarella struck Rivas in the head and stunned the suspect enough for Lt. Jennette to get a handcuff on his right hand.
Then the video showed Capt. Gencarella and Rivas both fell to the ground as the suspect continued to struggle and resist being arrested.
The video showed Rivas continued to squirm and fight and Lt. Jennette joined Capt. Gencarella on the ground as he tried to subdue the suspect.
Both the lieutenant and the captain struggled to get Rivas’ right hand into a handcuff and pinned him to the pavement to gain control as he continued to fight them, the video showed.
Once the suspect was in handcuffs, the video showed Lt. Jennette grabbed his radio and began talking into it.
That was when the video showed Capt. Gencarella reached forward and grabbed Rivas by the hair.
The video showed the police captain pulled the suspect’s head up off the pavement and then smashed it back down, planting his face on the roadway.
The police report and after-action report described the Capt. Gencarella delivering a “palm-heel strike” to Rivas’ head, WPRI reported.
But authorities said that wasn’t what happened.
“This strike is not depicted on the video,” Col. Clements wrote in Capt. Gencarella’s notification of termination letter. “What is captured on the video is the grabbing of Rivas’s hair by you and you forcefully pushing his head/face into the pavement.”
Col. Clements called the police captain’s actions “violations of criminal law and the civil rights of Armando Rivas.”
Police said that during the struggle, Rivas repeatedly tried to reach for his waistband, WPRI reported.
“During this struggle Rivas continually attempted to reach towards his waistband area despite loud verbal commands to comply; this continued when he was on the ground,” the police report read.
After Rivas had been detained, police searched him and found “M Tech” one-and-a-half inch serrated knife that was clipped inside the waistband, the Boston Globe reported.
His vehicle was towed from the scene.
The unregistered Jeep Cherokee had a broken window and matched the description of a suspect vehicle at a disturbance on the city’s West End, the Boston Globe reported.
Rivas was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing an officer, and two counts of simple assault.
He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to one year of probation, according to WPRI.
Michael Colucci, an attorney for Capt. Gencarella, said his client used force because he thought Rivas was reaching for a weapon.
“Police officers are authorized to use reasonable force options, available to them in the moment, to address threats as they arise during a struggle,” Colucci said. “The suspect, loosely cuffed and not yet searched, was observed reaching toward an area of his waistband that contained what appeared to be a firearm and was subsequently confirmed to be a knife stowed in a gun holster.”
Capt. Gencarella was scheduled for arraignment on Thursday afternoon.