RI cop accused of beating teenager, hiding abuse from FBI

By Eric Tucker, AP
Thursday, December 10, 2009

RI cop accused of beating teenager

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Rhode Island police officer was arrested Thursday, accused of brutally beating a teenage boy and then encouraging fellow officers to lie about it to the FBI.

Woonsocket police Officer John H. Douglas pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of violating a person’s civil rights and obstruction of justice. He was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.

He did not speak during his brief arraignment. But his lawyer defended him afterward, saying he was “a model policeman.”

In September, the FBI launched an investigation after the 16-year-old boy appeared in state juvenile court severely injured and said several police officers beat him up.

Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah said at the time that the boy had a boot mark on his back and that one of his eyes was swollen shut. The boy’s lawyer, Robert Laren, said the boy suffered a broken eye socket, was shot by a stun gun and had been badly beaten in the police station.

“It shouldn’t have happened. I’m upset that it happened,” Jeremiah told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The indictment, handed down Wednesday, said Douglas punched and struck a 16-year-old juvenile Sept. 15. It did not go into other detail, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not say if other officers would be indicted. The two counts together carry a maximum 30-year sentence.

The boy has not been identified because he is a juvenile.

Cliff Montiero, the Providence NAACP president who had called for the FBI investigation, said he was pleased with the charges and hoped other officers who may have been involved would be held accountable.

“If one person was charged, it’s better than what we’ve gotten historically” in other cases of alleged police abuse, Montiero said. “I’m happy that we have one, this is unusual — that a police officer is being charged by doing something that’s disrespectful to the uniform that he wears.”

Douglas, 34, of Blackstone, Mass., has been with the Woonsocket police department for five years and spent four years in the Marine Corps before being honorably discharged, his lawyer Peter DiBiase said.

He remains on unpaid administrative leave, where he was placed after the allegations were made, said Woonsocket police spokesman Detective Lt. Eugene Jalette.

Jalette has previously said the boy was acting suspiciously when the police stopped him. An officer recognized the boy as having escaped from a probationary program. When officers tried to arrest him, the teenager threw one of them to the ground, splitting the officer’s lip, Jalette said in September.

He said there was a foot chase and a struggle, then the boy was taken to a hospital for injuries that officers described as minor. Afterward, the boy was taken to the police station and then turned over to the custody of the state agency that runs the probation program.

The boy has said he was first taken to the police station, where he was beaten, then to the hospital and then back to the police department, where he says he was assaulted a second time.

The boy is black and Douglas is white. Montiero, a former Providence police officer, said he did not know if race played a role in the alleged beating, but said blacks historically have not been treated well by police in the state.

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