Police who patrol the south side of Providence, Rhode Island at night have been called the “third-shift terror squad”: a band of white officers who residents say target blacks and Latinos for harassment and assaults.
“They’re terrorizing the city,” said Charm Howie, a black former police cadet who was arrested by the crew, reported Boston.com. “I told them, ‘I’m a father. My kids are up there in the window. Please don’t disrespect me in front of my children.’”
Howie went out to get a pizza in 2015 and ended up thrown against his car and charged with disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest by white officers who stopped him for a non functioning headlight. He was later acquitted by the judge, partially because of the questionable credibility of the racist officers.
Howie, a 35-year-old barber and personal trainer who has a criminal justice degree, said the cops who arrested him were his former classmates at the police academy.
After bullying by instructors and fellow classmates, Howie was dismissed from the 2014 training class.
Over 75% of the nearly 400-member police force is white, while just 36% of the city’s 179,000 residents are white.
Providence police officials claim they have tried to improve relations with the community and have retrained officers.
Despite what residents say, Police Chief Hugh Clements Jr. gave a speech last month to new recruits, suggesting they have a long history of using restraint.
“We’re not perfect, but we’ve had a tremendous record of our use of restraint as a police department,” Clements said. “We’re proud of our record, we’re proud of what we’ve done, and we anticipate we’re about to get better.”
Activists have been calling form and a ban on racial profiling, especially since video footage surfaced last year showing cops assaulting south side residents.
“Community members are telling us that police are following them, taking photos of youth when they get out of school, putting them in gang databases,” said activist Vanessa Flores-Maldonado. “The further you go down Broad Street, the more and more police officers you see. That’s no coincidence. The further you go down Broad Street, the more black and people of color there are.”
The head of Providence’s police union, Sgt. Robert Boehm, said they get a lot more police calls to the poor black and Hispanic areas, and he believes that is why there are more complaints there. He said the area has had loud parties and “large crowds not cooperating with the police.”
Boston.com reported on Howie’s case and the questionable actions and testimonies of the officers:
Steven Nelson, the city lawyer who prosecuted Howie after his arrest, argued during the non-jury trial that Howie “was obstinate, he was defiant and he was bitter” when he saw his former classmates, because “they made it and he did not.”
Howie contended that the officers disliked him from their days in the academy and that one of them telephoned another ex-classmate during the arrest to laugh at what was happening to Howie.
Judge Madeline Quirk acquitted Howie in November and admonished the officers for “huge” inconsistencies in their testimony.
Among the red flags, she said, was the cellphone call one of Howie’s former classmates, Patrolman Matthew Sheridan, made to another, Patrolman Christopher Benoit. Sheridan testified it was accidental — a pocket dial. Another former classmate, Patrolman Michael Place, was also involved in the arrest.
No officers have been disciplined for what they did to Howie, but other officers have received punishment after being caught on video.
Sheridan was captured on video beating a disabled Latino nightclub employee in 2015, so the city said it gave him 6 months of departmental probation and retrained him in the use of force.
In May of last year, Sheridan arrested black writer and performance artist Christopher Johnson, at the time a candidate to be the state’s poet laureate, on charges of disorderly conduct, assault and resisting arrest. Johnson later wrote an essay titled “walking while black” saying Sheridan grabbed him and threw him against a cruiser.
Johnson’s lawyer said he hasn’t filed a complaint because the charges against him haven’t been resolved.
Also in May, 3rd shift south side officers were caught on video dragging a Latina woman around by her hair and punching her in the face, and throwing a man to the ground.
The city said Place, who assaulted the woman, received a written reprimand, retraining and a one-day suspension. Benoit received an oral reprimand and was retrained. Another officer was also reprimanded and retrained.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare wouldn’t address whether officers would face further discipline but said the department responds thoroughly to complaints.
He said he hopes the city expands the use of police body cameras so that “we can see the entire story and not just snippets” on the internet.