By DANIEL KITTREDGE It was a scene largely uncommon in Cranston, with police and emergency vehicles gathered en masse at a major intersection, lights flashing, onlookers gathered in pockets around the perimeter. There was no fire or major accident, which
It was a scene largely uncommon in Cranston, with police and emergency vehicles gathered en masse at a major intersection, lights flashing, onlookers gathered in pockets around the perimeter.
There was no fire or major accident, which are the typical causes for such a large congregation of public safety personnel. Instead, the scene emerged after Cranston Police chose to effectively block entrance into the city from the Providence line on Elmwood Avenue on the night of Oct. 21 – a response Chief of Police Col. Michael Winquist this week said was needed to prevent an influx of dangerous activity involving ATVs, dirt bikes and other vehicles onto local streets.
“The residents of Cranston and the business owners were extremely complimentary” in the days since, Winquist said, going on to praise the department’s personnel for their “professionalism and great restraint” in the face of a “chaotic situation.”
The roots of last Wednesday’s activity at the Cranston-Providence line near the intersection of Park and Elmwood avenues – and similar, but less intense, events on subsequent nights – can be traced to the afternoon of Oct. 18, when a moped driven by 24-year-old Jhamal Gonsalves crashed at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bissell Street.
Gonsalves, who was being pursued by Providence Police at the time, remained in critical condition this week. Since the incident, a number of protests have taken place in the capital city over the way police handled the pursuit and the aftermath of the crash. One of the Providence officers involved has been placed on administrative duty pending an investigation.
The incident has also brought new attention and focus to the use of ATVs and other off-road vehicles illegally on city streets, particularly in Providence.
On Oct. 21, one of the demonstrations in Providence led to the scene of the moped crash. Winquist said before the arrival of the demonstrators, police observed “a number of illegal ATVs and dirt bikes that were driving in a reckless manner” along Elmwood Avenue near the Cranston line.
“The decision was made to not permit those vehicles to come into Cranston,” he said.
Then, a crowd that Winquist estimates at between 150 and 200 people arrived at the scene. He took issue with the gathering being described as a protest, saying the participants were “more appropriately described as rioters.”
“These weren’t people that were there, in my opinion, to peacefully protest,” he said. “They were there to get into a fight with police.”
Initially, Winquist said, roughly a dozen Cranston officers were at the scene. Some members of the gathered crowd, he said, began to throw items at the officers – “balloons filled with urine, bottles, other blunt force objects” – leading to a mutual aid call to Providence, Warwick and Rhode Island State Police due to “serious safety concerns to our officers.” He also noted that the presence of broken glass on the road posed a danger to motorists.
“They were far outnumbered with the crowd,” he said.
Winquist said the officers involved in the response formed a “skirmish line” to “create some distance between ourselves and the crowd at that point.” That posture was maintained until approximately midnight, he said, and the crowd dispersed shortly thereafter.
He said during the incident, one Cranston cruiser’s windshield was smashed. At the height of the response, he said, approximately 20 Cranston officers were involved.
The police action also resulted in two arrests. One was a 16-year-old male who “refused to leave the middle of the street” and was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing an officer.
The other person arrested, well-known Providence attorney Shannah Kurland, is charged with two counts of simple assault along with charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Through her attorney, Kurland has issued a statement to members of the media saying she was pepper sprayed and arrested after questioning whether Cranston officers at the scene had the authority to enter Providence.
Winquist said he stands by the response of his officers as it relates to Kurland’s arrest. He alleges Kurland ignored warnings and “hurled expletives at the officers” before spitting at them. At that point, he said, the pepper spray was used. He cited a video from the scene as supportive of that version of events.
“It’s clear she was given numerous warnings to leave the middle of the roadway … She was told to leave, she refused,” he said.
The chief also said that was the only case in which Cranston Police used pepper spray during the Oct. 21 response.
On Oct. 22, Winquist said police again observed ATVs and other illegal vehicles engaged in the “same activity” on Elmwood Avenue. At a result, the decision was again made to close the roadway’s entrance into Cranston.
“Our concern was that we would have a repeat of the night before,” the chief said.
That night, a pair of snowplow vehicles from the Department of Public Works were brought to the scene. Winquist was unsure if they were used to block the road at any point. He said no arrests were made that night.
Police monitored the scene on the following nights as well, Winquist said, and in all those cases no similar response was deemed necessary.
Asked if he is concerned about similar scenes unfolding going forward, Winquist said: “We hope not, but we’re prepared. If it does, I think we have a sound plan in place.”
In terms of the issue of ATVs and other vehicles operating illegally on Cranston streets, Winquist said the activity in the city is “not close to the extent of what you see in Providence.”
“Fortunately, we have not experienced the same level of issues with it,” he said.
The chief noted that Providence has an ordinance in place allowing law enforcement to seize such vehicles. If activity were to increase, he said, he would support revisiting whether a similar measure might be warranted in Cranston.
Regarding enforcement of illegal street vehicle activity, he said: “Obviously, the difficulty is to do it safely. We don’t want anybody to get hurt … It’s a challenging endeavor.”
Mayor Allan Fung on Monday said he had been present for the police response on Oct. 22 and some of the subsequent nights. He spoke highly of how officers from Cranston and the other agencies handled the situations.
“For safety’s sake, we had to do what we needed to do,” he said, adding: “All I want to let residents know is that we’ll be ready … We’re always going to be mindful of our residents’ safety.”
Asked if he has been in contact with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza about the Oct. 21 incident and nights that followed, Fung said: “Not a single phone call … I’m just worried about Cranston.”