The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Fight Against Police Misconduct / Police Practices


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Fight Against Police Misconduct

Everyone needs and deserves effective and humane law enforcement in communities and courtrooms. Yet police abuse continues to be a major concern, particularly in poor communities and communities of color.  The Rhode Island ACLU uses legal action to hold police officers accountable for their actions.

2016: Alves v. Woonsocket

Category: Civil Rights  Discrimination  Rights of the Disabled  Free Speech  Police Practices  

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in partnership with the R.I. Disability Law Center on behalf of a profoundly deaf person who was arrested and detained overnight by Woonsocket police for allegedly making an obscene gesture, and who was never provided an interpreter to allow him to communicate with the police during his detention. The case raised important issues regarding municipal agency obligations to accommodate residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The lawsuit argued that city officials violated plaintiff David Alves’s “statutory and constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting and detaining him, charging him with violating an unconstitutional City criminal ordinance, subjecting him to discrimination on account of his disability, and failing to accommodate his disability.”

The suit settled favorably in January 2017.

Learn more about this case >

2011: R.I. ACLU v. Department of Public Safety

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Lawsuit challenging the adoption of regulations by the State Police significantly limiting public access to arrest reports and other police records.

2010: Lopera v. Town of Coventry

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  Students' Rights  

“Friend of the court” brief challenging the constitutionality of a police search conducted on student athletes leaving a soccer match, based solely on the coach’s consent.

2009: Simone v. Town of Johnston

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  

Favorably-settled federal lawsuit challenging a police department’s illegal disclosure of a resident’s private driver’s license information to a town council member for political purposes.

2008: Pehrson v. Reynolds

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Open records lawsuit challenging a police department’s refusal to release a copy of the arrest report of car passengers who may have been victims of racial profiling. A day after the suit was filed, the defendants turned over the requested documents.

Cooperating Attorney: Gary Berkowitz

Learn more about this case >

2007: Brown v. Esserman

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Open records lawsuit seeking police department’s policies governing the use of video surveillance cameras in public street locations. 

Cooperating Attorney: Staci Kolb

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2006: Estrada v. R.I. State Police

Category: Immigration  Police Practices  

“Racial profiling” lawsuit challenging the hour-long detention of a van based solely on the ethnicity of the driver and passengers.

2005: State v. McCormick

Category: Police Practices  

Successful criminal defense of a person arrested for “disorderly conduct” by the Westerly police after being stopped for speeding and allegedly making profane comments.

2003: Barros v. Town of Scituate

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Federal lawsuit challenging two separate incidents of racial profiling in which the plaintiff was stopped, questioned and, in one instance, improperly ticketed by Scituate police. A jury ruled for the officer in 2004, and while an appeal was pending, the case was favorably settled.

Cooperating Attorney: Thomas G. Briody

2003: Lanoue v. City of Woonsocket

Category: Police Practices  

Federal lawsuit challenging, on Fourth Amendment grounds, a police department’s actions in strip-searching the plaintiff and leaving her naked in a holding cell for over five hours after she was arrested for “driving under the influence.”

2003: R.I. ACLU v. Providence Police Department

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Lawsuit challenging the Providence Police Department’s failure to comply with the state’s “Driving While Black” law which requires police to collect data on all traffic stops for the purpose of determining whether racial profiling is occurring. Comprehensive court orders requiring independent monitoring of the agency, at its expense, were entered. A contempt finding against the Department for non-compliance with those orders was issued in 2002, and the City appealed. The case was remanded to the lower court for further consideration. After lengthy negotiations, the matter was settled with an award of attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorney: Carolyn A. Mannis

Learn more about this case >

2003: Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) v. Gannon

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Open records suit against the Providence Police Department for refusing to release internal records of police brutality complaints. In 2003 the R.I. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that the records were public and, in a second appeal, an order requiring defendants to turn over the records at no cost and to pay attorneys’ fees. After lengthy negotiations, an award of attorneys’ fees was made.

Cooperating Attorney: Dennis Grieco II

2001: Flowers v. Fiore

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Federal lawsuit on behalf of an African-American man who was stopped in his car and detained at gunpoint by Westerly police in a case of “racial profiling.”  The suit sought declaratory relief and compensatory and punitive damages.  The lower court dismissed the suit, and the appellate court affirmed the dismissal.

Cooperating Attorney: Thomas G. Briody

1999: Theberge v. Rocco

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging police officers’ warrantless entry into, and search of, a house in order to arrest a person seen to have engaged in underage drinking.

1998: Davis v. Prignano

Category: Discrimination  LGBT Rights  Police Practices  

Lawsuit, filed with GLAD, against the Providence Police Department for failing to release arrest reports of individuals charged with “loitering for indecent purposes” at a park which was the subject of anti-gay sting operations; the records were released.

1997: In re: C.D.

Category: Discrimination  LGBT Rights  Police Practices  

Representation before internal police review board of a person harassed by Providence police officers on the basis of his sexual orientation.

1996: Doriney v. Votto

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Favorably settled lawsuit on behalf of a nine-year-old African-American girl taken to the police station from school after being accused of throwing a snowball at another student.

1995: Direct Action for Rights and Equality v. Gannon

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Successful open records lawsuit filed on behalf of a Providence community group seeking access to various city police department records relating to police brutality.

1994: Ducharme v. State of Rhode Island, Division of State Police

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging the strip search of a person arrested for “disorderly conduct.”

1987: Fratiello v. Gorodetsky

Category: Free Speech  Police Practices  

Successful federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of two radicals, against Providence police for interfering with their free speech rights through harassment and bad faith arrests; the court struck down two ordinances under which the plaintiffs had been continually arrested.

1983: Elmer v. Ricci

Category: Free Speech  Police Practices  

The Providence police department issued a formal written apology and paid damages to settle this suit on behalf of a protester who had been arrested while peacefully leafleting outside a building where Henry Kissinger was speaking.

1983: The Rake v. Gorodetsky

Category: Open Government  Police Practices  

Favorable “open records law” decision issued in this case required the Providence Police Department to release various records relating to civilian complaints of police abuse.

1980: Monteiro v. McCarthy

Category: Discrimination  Rights of the Disabled  Police Practices  

This was an unsuccessful police brutality suit brought on behalf of a developmentally disabled teenager who was beaten by East Providence police officers.

1974: Texeira v. Bristol

Category: Police Practices  

A jury awarded damages in this police brutality case on behalf of a minority 13-year-old youth.