Inquiry ongoing after truck drives into immigration protest
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The criminal investigation into the prison guard who apparently drove his truck through a group protesting federal immigration policies should be finished in the coming weeks, Rhode Island’s attorney general said Wednesday.
Peter Neronha, a Democrat, said during a press conference at his office that investigators are moving quickly to discern what happened outside the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, one week ago.
They’re focused on the operation of the truck and the deployment of pepper spray by other prison personnel, Neronha said. He wouldn’t say how many people are under investigation or what charges they could face.
Investigators from Neronha’s office, the Rhode Island State Police and the Central Falls Police Department reviewed accounts by 31 witnesses and have at least 20 more to go. They continue to review video footage of the incident.
An officer at a detention center, Capt. Thomas Woodworth, resigned Friday amid the criminal and internal investigations. Officials at the center have not explicitly said whether Woodworth was driving the truck, but protesters identified him as the driver by the name on his uniform and posted photos on social media.
The internal review is also ongoing, a Wyatt spokesman said Wednesday.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, told The Associated Press Wednesday that while he’s not familiar with the specifics of the incident, he wanted to remind all interested parties that police officers are entitled to the same presumption of innocence and same due process rights as any other citizen. The fraternal order represents Wyatt officers.
“Let’s make sure that our opinions are informed by the facts, which are yet to be determined,” Pasco said in an email.
The Boston office for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started holding detainees at Wyatt again in March, a decade after a man’s death there ended the practice.
In 2008, 34-year-old Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng Eng died of advanced liver cancer while held there. When the immigration agency ended its contract with Wyatt in 2009, it said an internal investigation found a lack of communication about Ng’s health care needs.
About 140 detainees are held there currently, according to Wyatt.
The Jewish youth movement Never Again Action organized last week’s protest. They said at least two people were injured, one seriously, after the pickup truck drove up to an entrance blocked by demonstrators. Three other demonstrators were treated after inhaling pepper spray. Video posted by the group showed the vehicle stopping before again moving forward.
Neronha said it’s his understanding that less than half a dozen people were injured.
Activists held a press conference at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday to call for the detention facility, a quasi-public institution, to be shut down. Central Falls Mayor James Diossa also said recently that it should be shut down.
Neronha said he recognizes the unusually high degree of public interest in the case and emphasized the importance of getting it right. He asked anyone with information, particularly video footage, to contact his office and police.