Corrections Officer Placed on Leave After Driving Truck into Protestors

A corrections officer from Rhode Island who is accused of driving into a crowd of protestors outside of a detention center on August 14 has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Officials at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility said in a statement to The Providence Journal that Captain Thomas Woodworth has been placed on leave for driving his pickup truck into protestors outside of the Wyatt Detention Center.

“Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility Warden Daniel Martin is also conducting a top to bottom review of the incident, Wyatt correctional officers’ response, and the Wyatt’s protocols regarding protest activities outside of the facility,” the statement read. “Captain Thomas Woodworth has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the independent investigation being conducted by the Rhode Island State Police and the Wyatt’s internal investigation.”

In an August 14 video posted to Twitter by Never Again Action, an organization of Jewish organizers calling on government officials to end immigrant detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a truck attempts to drive into the parking lot of the facility. The protestors can be seen stopping the truck before it then proceeds to drive into the protestors. Following the incident, the protestors began to chant, “The whole world is watching.”

“Tonight we experienced a tiny sample of the violence ICE uses on our immigrant neighbors every day. An ICE guard drove his truck into our peaceful #JewsAgainstICE protest, then other guards came out and pepper sprayed the crowd,” the organization wrote on Twitter. “We’ll be back.”

Amy Anthony, a spokeswoman for Never Again Action, told The Providence Journal that two people were injured by the truck. One of the victims, Jerry Belair, 64, suffered a broken leg, internal bleeding, and a possible back injury. Another person, who Anthony could not identify, was also injured by the truck. Three other people were treated for exposure to the pepper spray that officers used to disperse the crowd. Anthony said all five of the people were released from the hospital the following day.

In a statement on Facebook, the organization said that although Woodworth has been placed on leave, it does not change anything about ICE facilities or the way it treats undocumented immigrants.

“The detention center employee who ran over a group of Jewish protesters outside the Wyatt Detention Facility last night has been placed on administrative leave. This in and of itself, however, won’t change anything about the climate in ICE facilities like Wyatt that made Thomas Woodworth feel this violence was acceptable, and that he would not be punished,” the statement read.

“Woodworth has been placed on leave, but we still have so much to do to make sure the conditions that enabled him are changed, and to shut down ICE for good.”

Peter Neronha, the Attorney General of Rhode Island, released a statement stating the Rhode Island State Police and his office would investigate the incident that occurred at the detention center.

“This Office, working with the Rhode Island State Police, is investigating what transpired last night at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls. Once we have a full understanding of the relevant facts, we will determine how to proceed,” the statement read. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans; it is unfortunate last night's situation unfolded as it did. We urge all to exercise restraint as our investigation proceeds.”

Earlier this week, nearly 100 people were arrested in New York following a protest to end ICE. Hundreds of people walked on the West Side Highway in Manhattan chanting “ICE raids have got to go!” and carrying signs that read “Close the Camps” and “Abolish ICE.” Protestors also mentioned the detention centers along the southern border and the separation of migrant children from their parents.

“We DEMAND an end to all detention and separation of families at the border and everywhere,” event organizers wrote, according to CNN. “We DEMAND dignity, respect, and permanent protection for all undocumented immigrants.”

Christopher Dunn, the legal director at the NYCLU (American Civil Liberties Union of New York), told The North Star in a previous statement that, “New Yorkers are right to express their outrage and did so this weekend by using their voice to push back against hateful words and deeds by the President.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.