A grand jury decided Wednesday not to press criminal charges against a corrections officer who in August drove into protesters outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility near Providence, Rhode Island. Charges also will not be filed against corrections officers who used pepper spray against the protesters.
On August 14, protesters from Never Again Action and AMOR Network formed a human chain outside Wyatt Detention Center, a private prison that the ACLU said is being used to house people arrested by ICE. Video posted to social media showed the truck stopping before starting up again, while protesters shouted "the whole world is watching!" and banged the truck. Then, former Captain Thomas Woodworth drove through the crowd while other corrections officers pepper sprayed the protesters.
Woodworth resigned, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha announced shortly after that his office and state police were investigating. Investigators focused not only on Woodworth, but also on the officers who used pepper spray.
Former state Representative Aaron Regunberg, who is part of the Never Again Action advocacy group that helped organize the protest, told CBS Providence affiliate WPRI-TV that the attorney general has "let everyone know it is OK to plow their vehicle into protesters they don't agree with."
At least one man suffered suffered a broken leg and internal bleeding and was being evaluated at a hospital for a possible back injury. He told The Providence Journal he is considering a civil suit.
Woodworth's attorney told The Providence Journal that Woodworth did not hit anybody with his truck.
"When I see the video, there are a couple of people that look like they're falling down. But there isn't a situation where the truck is actually making contact with them," the attorney, Gary Pelletier said. "I think they were trying to get out of the way, and backed into somebody."
Neronha said in a press conference Wednesday that the peaceful protest devolved into an "extremely unfortunate incident because of several unfortunate decisions," but he emphasized "none of those decisions were made by protesters."
Never Again Action said in a statement to WPRI that members who testified before the grand jury reported prosecutors focused on the actions of the protesters, "in an effort to justify Woodworth's and his colleagues' self-evidently indefensible actions."
Neronha said the grand jury interviewed more than 70 witnesses, analyzed approximately 75 videos and reviewed the medical records of anyone who claimed to be injured.
"There are times when grand jurors have to make a distinction between misconduct and criminal misconduct," he said. "The criminal justice system is not a perfect instrument. Sometimes it's a blunt instrument and not a scalpel."