RI AG’s office, police team up on hate crimes, police misconduct

RI AG’s office, police team up on hate crimes, police misconduct

PROVIDENCE — In a year marked by unrest and incidents of alleged police brutality, Attorney General Peter F. Neronhaand the state’s police departments are committing to prioritize civil rights work in an effort to protect Rhode Island’s diverse communities from crimes or misconduct born of hate or bias.

Neronha announced this week that a hate crimes and civil rights officer has been named in every police department across the state. That officer will act as a liaison with the civil rights team established by Neronha late last year with a focus on investigating and prosecuting hate crimes and police misconduct. 

“Expanding our work in civil rights continues to be a top priority for this office, and this team of dedicated liaison officers will be essential to that work …”  Neronha said in a news release. “I commend our law enforcement partners for stepping up to the challenge to help ensure that the community and law enforcement are aligned in their work toward an effective response to bias incidents.”

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Neronha’s office last week led virtual orientation and training sessions to help guide the officers in how to respond more effectively to misconduct believed to be bias-driven and to properly report alleged hate crimes, according to the release. In-person instruction is expected this summer, and to be conducted annually. The office is collaborating with community partners to ensure that the training offers diverse perspectives and best-practice policing strategies, the office said.

Under state law, all police departments are required to report to the Rhode Island State Police crimes that appear, after investigation, to have been motivated by bigotry or bias. A hate crime is defined as a criminal act in which the perpetrator deliberately targets someone due to hatred or animus toward the person’s actual or perceived disability, religion, color, race, national origin or ancestry, gender, or sexual orientation.

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The appointment of liaison officers is expected to help streamline the sharing of information and assist in training, with an aim toward safeguarding the state’s protected communities.

The initiative won praise from the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association.

“We commend Attorney General Neronha for prioritizing the civil rights of all Rhode Islanders and for his work to establish the very timely and necessary civil rights team,” the association’s executive director, Sidney Wordell, said in the news release. 

“Police officers throughout the state are committed to protecting and serving their communities without bias or prejudice, and appointments of the hate crimes and civil rights liaison officers will allow law enforcement officers to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, Wordell added. 

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He said the association looks forward to working with Neronha “toward our common goal of reducing hate crimes and discrimination in our state.” 

The civil rights team has recently fielded several high-profile cases. District Court Judge Brian Goldman last month found Providence Police Sgt. Joseph Hanley guilty of assaulting a handcuffed man as he lay on the sidewalk. 

Judge Stephen Isherwood in February found Richard Gordon, a retired Barrington oral surgeon, guilty of assaulting his neighbor in a racist tirade that sparked protests. Isherwood failed to find that Gordon’s attack on Bahram Pahlavi was motivated by animus based on his neighbor’s race or ethnicity. Gordon has appealed to Superior Court.

Neronha is also prosecuting a Florida man accused of hurling racial epithets and wielding a gun in an alleged road-rage incident in East Greenwich under the state’s Hate Crimes Sentencing Act, a move that could land Joseph Francis, 35, of Pompano Beach, with additional jail time.

In addition, Neronha’s office reached an agreement with Brown University’s Department of Public Safety last month to ensure that the school properly reports hate crimes in compliance with state law.

Published at Sat, 03 Apr 2021 14:32:00 +0000

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