Councilwoman LaFortune: Many ‘unanswered questions’ after police shooting

Democrat Nirva LaFortune.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune is calling on the police department to evaluate its policies following an officer-involved shooting that took the life of one man and wounded a woman last week.

LaFortune, a Democrat who represents Ward 3 on the city’s East Side, said there are still “unanswered questions” about a car chase that led nine Providence police officers and Rhode Island state troopers to fire more than 40 shots into a pickup truck on the I-95 North on-ramp by the Providence Place mall Nov. 9, killing 32-year-old Joseph Santos and injuring 37-year-old Christine Demers.

LaFortune will introduce a resolution at Thursday’s council meeting asking the police department to “conduct a detailed evaluation of the pursuit high-speed policy and de-escalation practices and training” and issue a report to the council, according to a copy of the proposal.

“I’m not trying to be critical, but I think that if you’re watching the video and watching what happened, there seems to be a flaw,” LaFortune told Eyewitness News. “But if there isn’t a flaw, I want to understand. So again, going back to these questions, there are a lot of unanswered questions. So how can these questions be answered?”

Resolutions are nonbinding, so it’s unclear if the police department will issue a report in response to LaFaortune’s request. In an email, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said he was aware of the resolution, but “will reserve public comment.”

Santos led multiple police officers on a chase that started on Route 10 and ended at the on-ramp from Memorial Boulevard to I-95 North adjacent to the mall. Police were initially searching for a man who allegedly stole a State Police cruiser and was believed to be in a white pickup truck. When police attempted to pull over Santos, he drove off.

Law enforcement officials have repeatedly said the officers and troopers were justified in shooting Santos, releasing video evidence that appears to show the white pickup truck ramming into a car and nearly hitting officers.

But LaFortune said she is still seeking answers to several questions: “Was there an actual reasonable belief that the lives of innocent people were endangered and how was that determined? What measures were taken to attempt to de-escalate the situation before shots were fired? Was there an attempt to confirm the identity of the people?”

LaFortune, who won the council seat in a special election in August, appears to be the first elected official in Rhode Island to publicly question the shooting. She stopped short of accusing the police department of wrongdoing, but her resolution states the incident “highlights a defect in both the police pursuit policy and de-escalation practices and training.”

“I would have wanted to see something take place where someone’s life was not lost and again, that’s why I submitted this resolution,” she said. “Because I have questions, unanswered questions, the citizens have unanswered questions and we want to know.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan