Metro, News

Wyatt correctional officer who drove truck into crowd will not face indictment

Attorney General faces criticism from activists following announcement

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 24, 2019

Never Again Action condemned the grand jury’s decision not to indict the correctional officer who drove a truck into their protest Aug. 14.

A state grand jury has decided not to file criminal charges against a former Wyatt Detention Facility captain who was captured on video driving a truck into a line of peacefully-assembled protesters in August, announced Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha Wednesday.

On Aug. 14, hundreds of community members led by Jewish advocacy group Never Again Action gathered outside the Wyatt in Central Falls, R.I. to protest the facility’s ties to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and voice opposition to an agreement that would sell the 770-bed prison to a for-profit, private company. A group of protesters were sitting on the sidewalk blocking an entrance to facility parking when a black pickup truck swerved toward them. In a viral video captured by attendees, protesters screamed and scrambled to get out of the way as the driver laid on the horn. The truck briefly paused before lurching further forward. Captain Thomas Woodworth, then a correctional officer at the facility, was at the wheel. Other correctional officers spraying pepper spray then swarmed the crowd. The incident left five people hospitalized, The Herald previously reported.

Neronha confirmed that, after an “extremely thorough” investigation in which over 70 people were interviewed, the 23-member grand jury has declined to indict anyone involved in the actions that night.

Members of Never Again Action and other local advocates condemned the decision, showing up to demonstrate outside of Neronha’s office following the announcement yesterday. “The Attorney General gave a green light to people who wish to enact violence against peaceful protesters,” said Tal Frieden ’19.5, a Never Again Action member who participated in the August protest.

“I recognize there is disappointment here,” said Neronha at the news conference. “I understand how they feel, and it is not lost on me the pain that they’re in.”

For many at the August protest, Neroha’s words felt empty. “It’s clear that law enforcement is given a green light to do whatever they’d like and enact any type of violence on peaceful protesters and others in the state,” Frieden said.

Woodworth’s attorney, Gary G. Pelletier, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

At the demonstration outside Neronha’s office, former State Representative and Never Again Action organizer Aaron Regunberg ’12 spoke about members of Never Again who were interviewed by the grand jury. “Every single one of our witnesses came out demoralized,” Regunberg said. “Many of them were in tears.”

Regardless of the jury’s decision, Neronha hopes that August’s event will lead to more robust safety protocols in the future. “A peaceful protest – a right enshrined in our Constitution – devolved into an extremely unfortunate incident that could have been avoided had better systems been in place to ensure public safety,”  he wrote in a press statement. “There is much to learn from this incident. It is my hope that we will do so.”

For Regunberg, the actions of prison guards on Aug. 14 and yesterday’s decision to move forward without pressing charges served as examples of harm created by an unjust system. “Immigrants are arrested for no crime other than seeking a better life for their family. Yet for law enforcement, you’re totally justified in driving a truck into a crowd of peaceful protesters on camera and have no charges,” he said. “It’s very concerning to think about the signal this sends to folks all around our state and the country.”

—With additional reporting from Dylan Clark

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