A former Providence, R.I., police officer who was instrumental in the arrest of a car-theft suspect—later sentenced to 20 years in prison—has filed a lawsuit accusing fellow officers and state police of assault and violation of rights after he was beaten and placed under arrest during the same 2012 encounter, the Providence Journal reports.
Christopher Owens, who was on the force for more than a decade, and his son, Tyler, are seeking $1 million in damages in the lawsuit filed last week that charges they were arrested because of the color of their skin.
Christopher Owens, who was off-duty during the September 2012 incident, and his son were doing yard work when they heard sirens and saw a tow truck driven by Season Sparfven, who has since been convicted, hit a car on the street. Sparfven was fleeing from officers who suspected him of car theft.
Owens went to help the lady driving the car that Sparfven had plowed into and discovered that she was a federal law-enforcement officer. He then took off after Sparfven and tackled him to the ground in what eventually became a violent struggle, the Journal reports. Soon, Providence police officers, some of whom Owens had worked with in the past or attended academy with, along with Rhode Island State Police officers arrived on the scene.
However, instead of getting help apprehending the suspect, Owens found himself being assaulted, handcuffed and put in the back of a cruiser by Officers Martin Rawnsley and Frank Furtado, Lt. Oscar Perez and state police Detective Mark McGarrity, even though he identified himself as a fellow officer, according to the lawsuit.
Owens' son, Tyler, who had also worked undercover on details with Providence police, was assaulted, punched in the face and put in the back of a cruiser, according to the lawsuit.
Christopher Owens was injured during the incident, received "injured in the line of duty" benefits and was approved by the retirement board for a disability pension. He never returned to work.
"They were assaulted, arrested, handcuffed and placed in the rear of police cars due to the color of their skin and because they are African Americans. One officer remarked that all he saw was a big black guy," the suit claims, pointing out that both father and son were treated as criminals even though they successfully apprehended Sparfven while putting themselves in danger.
Providence police and state police later credited Christopher Owens with apprehending Sparfven, who was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Police Department also acknowledged that the mistreatment of the Owenses was due to their race, the lawsuit claims, according to the Journal.
The Owenses are accusing Rawnsley, Furtado, McGarrity and other unnamed officers of assault, battery and negligence, as well as violating their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. They also claim that the city of Providence and the Police Department do not ensure that officers are adequately trained in using force, preventing racial discrimination and bias, preventing abuse of authority, and recognizing and avoiding racial stereotypes and profiling, the Journal notes.
State police Superintendent Col. Steven G. O'Donnell, however, said that Christopher Owens did not follow protocol for identifying himself at the scene.
"It's unfortunate he was injured," O'Donnell said. "It was a dynamic scene, but he has some responsibility for what transpired in that backyard."
Read more at the Providence Journal.