Providence, RI — Cellphone video of a brutal arrest by Providence, Rhode Island, Police on May 23 is being reviewed by the department after Mayor Jorge Elorza questioned whether the use of force would be considered excessive.
‘Excessive,’ however, could be considered a major understatement whether or not the officers’ claims the suspects acted violently toward them.
Footage uploaded to Facebook on July 7 begins with Patrolman Michael Place growling, “Get the fuck up,” as he yanks a woman, identified later in police reports as Carolinmar Torres, to her feet from the steps of a front porch — violently striking her head first into the side of the home.
Apparently alarmed by the officer’s actions, a man approaches, is thrown back by a second cop who punches him in the face, screaming, “Get the fuck off!” — as Place grips a handful of the Torres’ long hair and forcibly jerks her away from the porch.
As Torres lies helpless on the sidewalk — her hair still in the clutches of the enraged Place — he proceeds to punch her no less than three times in the face. Witnesses can be heard repeatedly yelling, “What the fuck,” as the brutal attack continues.
“If you don’t live here, get the fuck out!” an officer yells at one point. “Right now!”
Even as Torres clings to the Place’s leg in an attempt to relieve the pain from her hair being pulled, the out-of-control cop refuses to relent, dragging her through the grass and down the sidewalk by her hair and arm toward the waiting patrol car.
In the footage, Place can be heard saying “that bitch bit through my skin, punched me in the head, and everyone’s recording me like an animal.”
Toward the end of the footage, the irate officer returns to the porch, points a finger at an unidentified male, yelling, “He took my flashlight!”
“Who’s got my flashlight?” Place demands of the witnesses. “If I find one of you with my light, I’m locking you up.”
Local NBC affiliate Channel 10 first turned over the footage to Providence Police on July 7, who then gave a preliminary statement.
“When you look at it, it’s a bit shocking,” said Providence Public Commissioner Steven Pare, adding cellphone videos of apparently brutal arrests often capture the aftermath without providing necessary context of what led up to the use of force.
“Some of the reports I have subsequently read and reviewed after the video came out and then reviewed the video again, so it’s not as shocking,” Pare continued. “Without rushing to judgment, and opining whether it’s justified, whether there could have been other tactics, we need to get all the facts first.”
As Channel 10 noted, police reports of the incident describe Torres and another woman breaking glass on the porch — which brought the attention of Place and the other officer. When Place approached, the reports allege Torres attempted to strike the officer with an open hand “and became combative.”
A second woman allegedly attempted to jump on the officer’s back, which led Place to drag Torres by the hair from the porch — the point when the witness began filming the incident.
According to Col. Hugh Clements, who echoed Pare’s call not to rush judgment about Place’s actions, “The people creating the scene at that location were breaking things in the apartment, so the people who called the police were in complete fear. Officers needed to take control.”
While that point might be indisputable, Place’s savage handling of the situation remains highly questionable. If events prior to the footage happened as police allege they did, officers obviously had control of the situation immediately — Torres remained compliant and complacent even as she was ferociously manhandled throughout the filmed portion of the incident.
Adela Sena, a friend of Torres’ cited by Channel 10, questioned Place’s use of force and believes the encounter could have been handled differently.
“She was not fighting the cops, you know?” Sena, who wasn’t present during the incident, lamented. “How are you going to treat them like that? It was like self-defense, the only thing she could do because he was like dragging her. I think it was just extremely excessive. [It] makes you not even trust cops.”
According to the New York Daily News, Torres has been charged with felony assault on an officer, and two others were charged later in relation to the incident.
Police reports state Torres bit Place, drawing blood, and “multiple strikes, wrestling, and pressure points were used in an attempt to gain control of Torres, who after biting Patrolman Place, was still throwing punches and attempting to kick police officers.”
Mayor Jorge Elorza demanded an investigation, saying in a statement to Channel 10, “After seeing the video, I believe this matter warrants immediate review. I have directed my public safety commissioner and chief of police to fully investigate this incident.”
Pare and Clements noted the encounter happened around 1:30 in the morning and that only two officers had to deal with the small crowd — a situation which could have turned dangerous for the cops.
Neither officer has yet faced disciplinary action or administrative leave.
While Place and the second cop undoubtedly needed to control the situation, such ferocious force appears unwarranted. As for future disciplinary action, considering Providence Police have control of reviewing the incident, it wouldn’t be surprising to expect future statements to amount to the usual,
‘We investigated ourselves and found we did nothing wrong.’