PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A grand jury has determined that a deadly police shooting on a busy Rhode Island highway that killed a man caught up in the search for someone who stole a state police cruiser was “lawful and legally justified.”
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office announced the grand jury findings on Friday.
Joseph Santos, 32, was driving a white pickup, the same type of vehicle police were looking for in connection with the theft of the cruiser on Nov. 9.
Surveillance video captured by state highway cameras showed Santos speeding away from officers in a white pickup truck onto a Providence-area highway, then getting caught in traffic as he merged onto Interstate 95 next to the Providence Place mall. He then repeatedly rammed another car.
At that point, authorities say, nine officers from Providence and state police shot more than 40 rounds into the pickup. Santos was killed with a gunshot wound to the neck, according to the medical examiner’s office. His passenger, Christine Demers, 37, was severely injured.
A different man later was charged with stealing the cruiser, and police have never detailed whether they think there was any connection between the cruiser theft and Santos fleeing.
Police have said the shooting was justified because Santos was putting lives at risk. State Police Col. Ann Assumpico on Friday said that the grand jury made “the right decision.”
“The men and women of the Rhode Island State Police and the Providence Police Department did what they are trained to do — to protect the lives of innocent people who were in imminent danger that day,” she said.
But civil liberties advocates have raised questions about whether police followed proper procedures for high-speed chases and use of force. Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said many questions and concerns remain after the grand jury’s decision.
“Providence police and state troopers put the public at great risk by engaging in an unnecessarily dangerous high-speed chase, and then opening fire on a busy highway after Santos’ vehicle was largely immobilized,” Brown said.
He called for a serious examination by both police agencies of their practices and protocols, and details of what actions they have taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.