Central Falls, RI – A correctional officer is under investigation after he drove his pickup truck through a group of protesters blocking the parking lot to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center on Wednesday night (video below).
The protesters were sitting on the pavement blocking access to the parking for employees of the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, the Associated Press reported.
That’s when a uniformed correctional officer, driving a black pickup truck, arrived for work and wanted to get into the parking lot.
A video of the incident posted to social media showed protesters were sitting on the ground in a line in front of the parking lot entrance with their arms linked, chanting and holding signs, when the correctional officer arrived for work.
The video showed the pickup truck stopped abruptly when it got to the protesters, and then the driver blew the horn to tell them to move out of the way.
But instead of clearing a path for the correctional officer on his way to work, the protesters stood up and held their hands up to the truck, commanding the driver to stop, the video showed.
The protesters quickly surrounded the front of the black truck and when the driver honked the horn again, they began pounding on the vehicle’s hood.
Despite the brouhaha in front of him, the driver crept forward slowly and made his way through the aggressive crowd that continued to bang on his car and scream at him as he made his way to work, the video showed.
The protesters began chanting “the whole world is watching” as the pickup came to a stop. Then the surrounded the truck and banged on it and chanted.
Police officers who were detailed to work the protest failed to intervene in the melee, The Washington Post reported.
But other correctional officers deployed pepper spray to disperse the unruly crowd and the driver of the truck was able to walk into the prison after parking.
Never Again Action, a Jewish youth organization, said that the truck struck two of the protesters who refused to move out of the way, the Associated Press reported.
They said 64-year-old Jerry Belair suffered a broken leg and internal bleeding from the impact of the truck.
Never again claimed another protester had been injured by the truck but did not offer a name or proof of the injuries, the Associated Press reported.
Never Again Action also said three protesters were treated for pepper spray inhalation after detention center employees used the chemical to break up the crowd banging on the pickup truck.
On Thursday, Wyatt Detention Warden Daniel Martin announced that Correctional Captain Thomas Woodworth had been placed on administrative leave while an investigation into the incident was conducted; however, he stopped short of confirming that Capt. Woodworth was the driver of the black truck, the Associated Press reported.
Warden Martin said the investigation would also explore “Wyatt correctional officers' response and the Wyatt's protocols regarding protest activities outside of the facility."
The Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office said it was investigating the incident, The Washington Post reported.
Central Falls Police Major Craig Horton said his agency was assisting with the investigation.
“Once we have a full understanding of the relevant facts, we will determine how to proceed,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “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.”
Watch videos of the truck driving through protesters and correctional officers dispersing the crowd with pepper spray below: