Providence, RI – State and local authorities shot and killed a man who rammed other motorist’s cars and tried to back over officers during a pursuit on Thursday.
Now a handful people have held a protest demanding “justice” for the shooting.
The incident happened shortly after 9 am Thursday, when a Rhode Island State Trooper was transporting a prisoner, Donald Morgan, 35, to court.
During the transport, the trooper came upon a motor vehicle collision.
The trooper then stopped and exited his vehicle to assess the scene.
“The suspect somehow from the rear of the vehicle got into the vehicle, the front of the vehicle, and drove the cruiser,” said Rhode Island State Police Colonel Ann Assumpico.
Providence Police and Rhode Island State Police found the cruiser abandoned in a residential area at approximately 9:30 am.
State and local authorities immediately launched an intensive manhunt for Morgan.
After receiving information that a man was seen trying to get into a white pickup near the area where the cruiser was abandoned, the search began to focus on individuals driving white pickups, Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said.
A Cranston police officer attempted to pull over a white pickup at about 10:35 am, but the driver sped away, leading police on a pursuit on the city’s busy roadways.
The driver of the pickup was later determined to be 32-year-old Joseph Santos.
Local news media suggested that Santos was shot because he was mistaken for Morgan, not because he was endangering the lives of others.
The Providence Police Department released Rhode Island Department of Transportation traffic camera recordings of the pursuit on Friday to make it clear that the deadly force was not a case of mistaken identity.
“We, as a department, believe that getting footage out and explaining the circumstances both leading up to and the use of deadly force was important,” Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré said at Friday’s press conference, according to the Providence Journal.
The video showed multiple police vehicles pursuing the white pickup as it wove through traffic and sped along congested roadways. The driver veered across lanes of traffic, cutting off vehicles and swerving around motorists.
At one point, Santos chose drive in the breakdown lane in order to bypass vehicles.
The pickup veered up a ramp to change route, but was blocked by traffic.
Additional police vehicles quickly surrounded the white pickup, but Santos started to ram the driver-side door of an innocent motorist’s vehicle, with her trapped inside.
Chief Clements said that an officer had to remove the woman from the vehicle in order to get her to safety.
Santos then backed towards officers who were behind the truck, and officers needed to run out of the way.
Officers then began firing at the vehicle’s dark-tinted windows.
According to Good Morning America, Chief Clements said, “More than 40 shots were fired by multiple officers and troopers in two separate volleys of gunfire.”
Officers converged on the pickup as it came to a stop, and found that Santos sustained multiple gunshots and was killed.
His passenger, Christine Demers, 37, was injured and is hospitalized, Chief Clements said.
“We believe that video shows the acts of the officers as doing exactly what we would want them to do in stopping an imminent and significant threat,” Chief Clements said.
“As I understand it, the person in the truck was really very violent and was dangerous,” Governor Gina Raimondo told the Providence Journal.
“A car is a weapon, right?” Gov. Raimondo said. “And it was assault with a deadly weapon. And so from what I’ve been briefed on and what I’ve seen the officers who were there, they saw this guy in the truck … and he was going out of his way to aggressively ram into pedestrians and other cars, and they had to do what they had to do. The police were in danger, the public was in danger.”
Details surrounding why Santos fled from authorities have not been released, but he had two bench warrants on a charge of breaking and entering in Providence and stealing a vehicle in East Providence, the Providence Journal said.
His sister, Justine Santos, told WJAR-TV that he was driving an unregistered vehicle and had a suspended license.
Friend and family of Santos held a “Justice for Joseph Santos” protest and it’s reported that a few people actually showed up to demand “justice.”
Morgan, the escaped prisoner who stole the police cruiser Friday morning, was apprehended on Friday night, Good Morning America said.
He was charged with escape from custody, resisting arrest, reckless driving, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, obstructing an officer in execution of duty, and larceny of a motor vehicle.
The matter of Santos’s death will be brought to a grand jury, which will determine whether the officers’ use of force was justified.
You can see the video of the pursuit with an explanation below: