Providence police make arrest in panhandler’s death

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Exactly a week after a panhandler was assaulted on a Providence exit ramp, police announced they’ve made an arrest in the city’s 15th homicide of the year.

John Cope is charged with manslaughter for the death of Erick Brandon, 78.

Police said Brandon was sitting in the median of the Branch Avenue off-ramp from I-95 Nov. 7 when a man punched him in the head. They said Brandon then fell to the ground and struck his head. He was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

Providence Police Major David Lapatin said good detective work, along  with some help from the public, led them to Cope. Police said the suspect and the victim were both known panhandlers, and believe the motive may have been a panhandling turf war.

“It’s no secret we have a problem with panhandlers. We’ve made many arrests, and they keep popping back up,” Lapatin explained. “We’re still working on that, and we will work on it a little more to try and end this.”

The suspect’s neighbor, Francine Robbins, said she always had a feeling about Cope.

“It really shook me up and my heart’s been beating really fast,” she said. “I feel lucky that nothing ever happened to me.”

Eyewitness News has learned Cope has a lengthy criminal history and is on the sex offender registry. His bail was set at $50,000 with surety.

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