Police still hunting for cruiser theft suspect

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The hunt for a man who police say drove off with a state police cruiser resumed Friday as officials continue to investigate the deadly officer-involved shooting that stemmed from it.

Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements on Friday identified the man who was shot and killed Thursday as Joseph Santos, 32, saying he died after being shot “a couple of times,” while his female passenger, Christine Demers, remains at the hospital.

In the meantime, police are asking for the public’s help as they work to track down Donald Morgan. Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré on Friday said he’s wanted but not considered dangerous or violent.

Morgan, 35, was arrested Wednesday on charges of possession of a stolen motor vehicle and obstruction. On Thursday, he was being transported to court by a state police trooper when, at about 9 a.m., the trooper pulled over his cruiser to assist with a crash on Route 146.

That’s when police say Morgan climbed into the front seat and drove off in the marked cruiser.

Police began a widespread search for Morgan, eventually finding the cruiser abandoned on Vineyard Street in Providence. The firearm that was inside the vehicle was still there but Morgan was nowhere to be found.

According to Cranston police, state police put out a broadcast saying that Morgan may have jumped in the back of a white pickup truck. An officer spotted such a vehicle in the Silver Lake section of Providence and pulled it over, but police said the driver sped off after the officer approached the vehicle.

A police chase ensued, which resulted in a violent confrontation on an I-95 North on-ramp by the Providence Place mall. The responding officers opened fire on the truck, killing the male driver and leaving his female passenger with serious injuries, though police said she’s expected to survive. Neither person has been identified.

Juan Carlos Ardaya, an eyewitness, said moments before the shooting, the driver refused to exit the truck for police and then drove the vehicle into a cruiser.

“When he ignored him the officer said, ‘get out, open the door.’ The officer got in front, drew his weapon and pointed,” Ardaya recalled.

Paré on Thursday said the cruiser theft and the shooting are being investigated as two separate incidents.

“One has nothing to do with the other,” Paré said. “There was the theft of the trooper car, there was this chase by the police officers and then deadly force was used.”

Some of the officers who were on scene during the shooting were wearing body cameras, according to Paré, and that footage is now being reviewed. Police later confirmed there were no weapons found in the pickup truck.

Paré said at least nine officers fired their weapons during the confrontation downtown and each one has been placed on administrative leave, per department protocol. Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office also responded to the scene as they’ll be taking part in the shooting investigation.

Court records obtained by Eyewitness News show Morgan has a lengthy criminal record, having had numerous encounters with police dating back to 2002.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Rhode Island State Police at (401) 444-1000, then press #8 to reach someone who can help you.