Rhode Island

Corrections Officer Who Drove Into Protesters at Detention Center Placed on Leave

Protesters say they were pepper-sprayed and that two people were taken to the hospital

The corrections officer accused of driving into a crowd of protesters outside a Rhode Island detention center on Wednesday night has been placed on leave pending the results of a state police investigation.

The Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls issued a statement Thursday saying Capt. Thomas Woodworth has been placed on administrative leave. He is the man believed to have nearly run over the group of Jewish activists who were protesting federal immigration policies.

Video posted to social media by the Jewish youth movement Never Again Action shows a pickup truck stopping near protesters outside the Wyatt Detention Facility. The driver appears to honk at them before driving through the crowd, causing many to scream. 

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Video shot by Telemundo Nueva Inglaterra shows protesters being sprayed with what appeared to be pepper spray. 

Two people were taken to a hospital after the truck drove through the crowd, organizers told NBC10 Boston. Three other people were hospitalized after they were pepper-sprayed.

"Last night we experienced a small example of the violence that ICE uses against our immigrant neighbors every day," Never Again Action said in a statement.

"As Jews, our families taught us the lessons of the Holocaust, and we promised that we would speak out and act if we ever saw a group of people being targeted, dehumanized, and rounded up."

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Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said his office and state police are investigating.

"Once we have a full understanding of the relevant facts, we will determine how to proceed," the attorney general's office said. "Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans; it is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did."

Wyatt Detention Facility Warden Daniel Martin said he is also conducting an internal review of the incident and the facility's protocols regarding protest activities.

According to organizers, protesters had attempted to block the entrance of the center’s immigration staff parking lot before a group of officers were scheduled to begin their shifts.

Video shows the group of protesters sitting on the ground as the truck approaches. When the truck stops, the protesters stand up, with some banging the hood of the truck. The truck is then seen driving into the crowd. 

About 300 hundred people participated in a march to the detention center earlier in the day to deliver a letter to officials demanding information about the conditions of those in custody, Never Again Action tweeted. The group had warned if officials from the facility failed to meet them by 8 p.m., they would "shut down" the detention center.  

The facility is used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and can house 730 adult male and 40 adult female detainees, according to its website.

According to the Providence Journal, protests have been happening there since the facility began accepting ICE detainees in March. A July 2 protest resulted in several arrests.

ICE said in a statement that none of its personnel were involved in the response to the protest and that it fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinions.

"Misinformation about the ICE mission continues to shroud the agency’s critical law enforcement function and unnecessarily puts communities and ICE personnel at risk," the statement continued.

The corrections officer suspected of driving his pickup truck into a crowd of protesters at a Rhode Island detention center was placed on administrative leave the next day.
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