Providence law enforcement pieces together incidents that led to man's death.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A day of chaos sparked by the theft of a state police cruiser early Thursday ended with one man dead, a woman hospitalized, and the man accused of stealing the cruiser still at large.
The events began around 9 a.m., with the report of a stolen state police cruiser. They culminated with Providence police and Rhode Island State Police surrounding a white pickup truck, and multiple officers firing into the truck at close range.
According to state police Col. Ann Assumpico, an unnamed trooper was driving Donald Morgan, 35, to a court appearance on obstruction and possession of a stolen motor vehicle charges.
When the trooper stopped at a crash on Route 146 and exited the car, Morgan, still handcuffed, got into the driver’s seat and drove away with the cruiser. The trooper’s weapon was not taken. Laura Meade Kirk, a spokeswoman for the state police, said she could not comment on questions related to procedures for the transport of prisoners. She would not comment on how many troopers would be subject to the standard administrative review required under state law following a shooting.
The police later located the cruiser at 45 Vineyard St., in Providence’s West End. Morgan, who has a lengthy criminal record, remained at large. One auto-body shop owner reported that 40 to 50 police officers and state troopers descended on the area with dogs, searching for Morgan.
“He is obviously still somewhere in the area,” Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said late Thursday at a news conference.
About an hour and a half after the cruiser was stolen, according to Cranston Police Col. Michael Winquist, a call went out across police radio channels asking officers across the state to be on the lookout for a white Ford F-150 with something “hanging out the back.”
The broadcast led Winquist to believe that Morgan might be hiding in the bed of the truck, he said.
A Cranston officer saw a white Ford F-150 driving “erratically” in the city shortly afterward and attempted to pull the driver over. The truck stopped, but when the Cranston officer got out of his car, the driver “took off at a decent clip,” Winquist said. The truck swerved, made illegal turns and sped past stop signs, evading the police.
“The driver was showing a total disregard for public safety,” Winquist said. The officer pursued the car and called the station, Winquist said.
The Cranston officer lost sight of the truck, and Providence police then picked up the pursuit, which led onto the Route 95 north ramp behind the Providence Place Mall.
Michael Perry, 42, a Cranston building contractor, saw several state police cruisers speed by him on Route 95 north as he drove to a meeting at The Miriam Hospital.
They were going so fast that “they were almost endangering their lives,” Perry said. “I knew something was going on.”
Up ahead, the state police were stopping all traffic, Perry said, and he assumed at first they were clearing the way for a dignitary.
Then, he heard a noise — “like a pop or crash” — as state police and Providence police converged, guns drawn, on a white pickup truck. “I pulled the camera out,” Perry said, and he held it up through the sunroof to capture whatever was happening.
Perry’s video shows at least six officers firing upon the truck at close range. The truck rolls forward, and a volley of at least eight gunshots is heard, followed by the truck’s engine revving and a cloud of smoke.
“It happened so fast,” Perry said. All of the gunfire appeared to come from outside the truck, Perry said.
Law enforcement officials later said that the dead man was not Morgan.
A woman riding in the passenger seat of the white pickup truck remained at Miriam Hospital in unknown condition late Thursday, Paré said. Earlier in the day, police listed her as in critical condition.
The state medical examiner removed the dead man’s body late Thursday.
Asked whether the fatal shooting of the man in the pickup truck was a tragic error, Paré said, “No, it is not.”
“We’re investigating … why this individual did not stop and why police officers had to use deadly force,” Paré said.
He said he did not know what relationship the woman had with the driver of the pickup, but that “she and her behavior are part of the investigation.”
No police officers were injured. Paré said several of the Providence officers involved in the shooting were wearing body cameras.
In 2014, Providence police adopted a general order on the use of force based on Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies standards.
The 11-page document breaks down appropriate situations for use of “lethal force” defined as “any tactic or use of force that is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death.”
Officers are only permitted to shoot at moving vehicles when it is “necessary to stop a threat.” The officer is to focus on stopping the person of interest, not to disable the vehicle, according to the order. The state police follow a similar standard.
Also that year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plumhoff v. Rickard that when police officers in Tennessee fired “multiple rounds into a car” in a high-speed chase, killing a driver and a passenger, they did not violate the law. The use of force “was not unreasonable” given the public safety risk posed by a reckless driver, the justices found in a unanimous decision.
The state’s top prosecutors were at the scene Thursday, as the attorney general’s office is responsible for investigating all officer-involved shootings.
The incident closed Route 95 in both directions for a time. Traffic began flowing on the highway at a very slow place around noon.
The back window of the truck bore the logo of Rock House Construction, of Johnston. David Antonucci, the owner of the company, said he sold the truck about two years ago. He said he could not recall the name of the buyer but said the man was from Woonsocket.
Antonucci first heard about his old truck’s involvement in the shooting when he got a call from a reporter after the incident. His immediate thought was that it could have been his son’s truck, which is also white and has the company logo on it. But he checked with his son, who was safe in Warwick.
Once someone sent him a picture of the truck involved in the shooting, Antonucci realized it was not one of the six trucks currently owned by the company.
“We’ve changed the logo,” he said. “As soon as I saw that, I knew what it was.”
Providence public school officials locked down four West End schools in the area of Bucklin Street on Thursday morning as word of a dangerous incident emerged.
The schools, Lima, Fortes and Leviton elementary schools, and Gilbert Stuart Middle School, were closed to outside access, but classes continued as scheduled, school district spokeswoman Laura Hart said.
The lockdown ended sometime after 11 a.m., Hart said.
Katie Mulvaney, Jacqueline Tempera and Amanda Milkovits are reporters for The Providence (R.I.) Journal.