ACLU of Rhode Island Statement on PERA Report on the Hanley Assault Incident

October 8, 2020 2:00 pm

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Below is a statement issued by ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown in response to the release of a report by the Providence External Review Authority investigating the assault charge against Sgt. Joseph Hanley:

“The report issued by the Providence External Review Authority about the pending assault case involving Sgt. Joseph Hanley is deeply troubling for a number of reasons. Not only does the report describe assaultive behavior toward a handcuffed suspect, but it also details the unconscionable failure of other officers to restrain Sgt. Hanley while he allegedly engaged in this conduct.

“However, we think it is also important not to overlook another finding of the report: the failure of Providence police officers to take seriously their obligation to use their body-worn cameras when interacting with the public. In clear violation of departmental policy, two of the three officers on the scene of the incident, including Sgt. Hanley, did not record their encounter with the suspect.

“Unfortunately, it is clear this is not an anomaly. In another highly publicized incident in June, one of two officers involved in a controversial guns-drawn encounter with a Black firefighter in front of his fire station failed to activate his camera. According to the response we received to an Access to Public Records Act request, this is not surprising. Between January 2018 and June 2020, only 20 Providence officers were disciplined for failing to activate their body cameras, and none received anything more than a verbal reprimand for this indisputable violation of departmental policy.

“The City’s purchase and use of body-worn cameras was supposed to promote transparency and accountability. Yet these two recent incidents – and the police department’s continued refusal to release the body camera footage from the one officer who recorded the Hanley incident – tell a different story. The body camera policy is regularly flouted, violations are rarely punished, and the transparency these cameras were supposed to provide the public is ignored. We urge the City Council to take action to codify strong standards on the use of these cameras and on the public’s ability to access the recordings in a timely manner.”

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