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In wake of Jhamal Gonsalves’ crash and investigation, students, community members weigh in

In January, RI Attorney General said he would not bring criminal charges against officers involved in Gonsalves’ crash

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2021

In January, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha announced that officers involved in an October moped crash that sent Providence resident Jhamal Gonsalves into a coma would not face criminal charges.

Anger and hurt. Those were the two emotions Mark Gonsalves Sr. said he experienced when he found out in January that the Providence police officers involved in an October moped crash that left his son Jhamal in a coma would not face criminal charges

Jhamal Gonsalves “has never had (malicious) intentions to hurt anyone or anything,” Gonsalves Sr. told The Herald. 

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha announced in January that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers involved with the crash acted with criminal recklessness, the Providence Journal previously reported. But he noted that Kyle Endres, the officer who, in his cruiser, hit a stop sign that struck Gonsalves, may have taken civilly negligent action

Shortly after the attorney general’s announcement, two of Gonsalves’ family members filed suit on his behalf. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, Providence, accuses Providence police of “excessive force and physical brutality” in their interactions with Gonsalves. The complaint says Gonsalves was riding a moped in “a safe manner” and “using due care” when the Providence police followed him, forcing Gonsalves to lose control of his moped. At around the same time, Endres, according to the complaint, turned his cruiser “in a negligent and reckless manner.” 

In a February court filing, Endres and Officer Brad McParlin, who was also at the scene of the crash, denied the claims of negligence and reckless driving. 

In January, Endres received a two-day suspension without pay. 

Gonsalves remains in long-term care. 

“Could be better and could be worse. That’s what I’m known for saying. That’s what I say to everyone” that asks about my son, Gonsalves Sr. said. “I try not to pray too much to ask God for things and just give thanks for what I have already received, like my son still breathing.” 

The Providence Police Department did not respond to requests for comment by press time. 

Amato A. DeLuca, one of the attorneys representing Gonsalves, told The Herald that he was unsurprised by how the attorney general’s investigation concluded. 

DeLuca said that the actions and “aggressive tactics” taken by Endres and McParlin violated Gonsalves’ civil rights. In pursuing civil action, DeLuca said he aims to help Gonsalves receive compensation for the injuries he suffered. 

While Gonsalves is no longer in a coma, he still has trouble with cognitive functioning and is severely neurologically impaired, according to DeLuca. It is “more probable than not” that he is “going to have these problems for the rest of his life,” DeLuca said. 

Based on consultations with and evaluations from neurologists and life care planners, DeLuca said that anywhere from $10 to $20 million would be needed to pay for the various services that Gonsalves will need, including nursing assistance and physical therapy. 

DeLuca said that the Providence Police Department needs to make a coordinated effort to create a policy that provides clear indication of what officers should do when following motorcyclists and motor scooter riders. 

“Frankly, it’s not rocket science,” DeLuca said. “It’s just sitting down and figuring out how it should be done.”

DeLuca added that he thinks the city is making an effort to create such a policy so that an incident like Gonsalves’ “doesn’t happen again. Obviously, (the police department) doesn’t want it to happen again.”

Direct Action for Rights and Equality Managing Director Kiah Bryant, with whom Gonsalves Sr. has worked following his son’s crash, was also unsurprised by the results of Attorney General Neronha’s investigation. 

“They close ranks and, of course, they protected their own instead of actually getting justice,” Bryant said.

Students who followed Gonsalves’ case expressed frustration with the outcome of the investigation.

As the investigation, which began in October, went on, “I think it became clearer and clearer that there wasn’t going to be any sort of disciplinary action or criminal charges,” Aida Sherif ’22 said. 

Jordan Walendom ’23 said that he felt that the results of the investigation reflect the ability of police officers to “live beyond the law” and avoid consequences for their actions. He wants to see police officers be held accountable “for how they negatively impact communities” and create “distrust for the communities that they’re supposed to serve.” 

For Bryant, Sherif and Walendom, Gonsalves’ crash is emblematic of the larger issue of police brutality in Providence and the nation as a whole.  

“I’m an abolitionist,” Bryant said, “I do not believe that we need police.” 

The PPD, Bryant said, is an arm of “state-sanctioned violence” against Black and brown communities.

Changing policies and training within the police department “is not going to help,” Bryant said. “There’s something more to the problem, and that is policing in general,” she added. “It’s bias. It’s racism. (There needs to be) a complete overhaul of what we know as policing.” 

DARE, in focusing its activism toward reducing the presence of police in the Providence community, supports the “Counselors Not Cops” campaign started by Providence organizations, according to Bryant. The campaign seeks to remove law enforcement officers from Providence public schools and replace them with additional guidance counselors, The Herald previously reported.

According to Governing, U.S. police jurisdictions with a population between 100,000 and 200,000 people had an average of 15.9 officers per 10,000 residents in 2016. Providence, which had a population of 178,851 in 2016, had an average of 23.6. 

“I don’t really think that improving the police is necessarily the solution to police brutality,” Sherif said, “because violence is inherent to the practice of policing.”

Instead of proposing ways to change the PPD, City leaders should look to defund the department and reallocate funding to Providence’s public schools, Sherif added. 

Providence’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 includes $88 million for the city’s police department, in addition to $3.5 million for the city’s human services department, which includes its housing authority and human relations commission, and $130 million for the city’s public schools. 

Over the coming weeks, DARE wants to focus on what a world without police officers could look like for community members who “know what it feels like to be abused and brutalized” by the police, Bryant said. The organization is looking to hold political education events for the Providence community through regular weekly or monthly meetings.

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