U.S. Police Detective Who Arrested Liberian Wrongfully Suspended For 10 Days

Woonsocket police detective who oversaw an investigation that resulted in the wrongful arrest and incarceration of Mack Blackie, a 35-year-old homeless Liberian immigrant, has been suspended without pay for 10 days and demoted to patrol officer. Woonsocket, Rhode Island is a vibrant, urban community in the United States.

Timothy M. Hammond “failed to follow standard investigative procedures which ultimately led to the improper arrest of Mr. Blackie,’’ Michael J. Lepizzera, Jr., a lawyer for the city solicitor’s office, said in a statement released late Friday. “Detective Hammond accepted responsibility for his actions, was transferred from the Detective Division, and accepted a period of suspension.’’

Lepizzera apologized to Blackie “for his improper arrest and incarceration” on behalf of the city, police department, Hammond and Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas F. Oats III.

Hammond, 53, who has been on the force for 17 years, did not respond to requests for comment.

Hammond and the police department reached an agreement on his suspension and demotion without what’s called a Board of Rights hearing – as officers who are facing discipline beyond two days of unpaid suspension have a right to, under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, known as LEOBOR.

Blackie, 35, was arrested in October 2022 while he was on his way to a free meal served in a city park in Woonsocket. Police had listed him as a suspect in a break-in the previous August at an Arnold Street rental apartment. Police charged Blackie with breaking and entering – a felony.

Blackie spent 31 days at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston. The day before Thanksgiving, a social worker at Safe Haven – a drop-in center for people who are homeless – raised the $100 to pay his $1,000 surety bail. (His struggle to regain his health and sobriety were chronicled in the series, Chasing The Fix.)

It wasn’t until a court hearing in mid-February when the crime’s only witnesses – William Grover, 62, and his wife, Veronica Higbie, 49 – finally got a look at the man police charged with breaking into their apartment. And they knew right away that the police had arrested the wrong man.

It turned out that the man Grover told a patrol officer he knew as “Black” was not Mack Blackie, who the patrol officer listed as a possible suspect, according to the police report.

Hammond, then the detective in charge of the case, never scheduled a photo lineup. Nor did he show Grover or Higbie a photo of Mack Blackie to determine whether the suspect listed on the police report was the same person Grover said he knew as “Black,” which, it turned out, they were not.

Nevertheless, the detective obtained a warrant from the court to arrest Blackie, stating that Grover “immediately recognized him [the intruder] as being Mack Blackie.’’ The charges against Blackie have since been dismissed.

Vincent F. Ragosta Jr., a lawyer who has prosecuted more than a hundred LEOBOR cases for Rhode Island municipalities, said that it’s not that common for an officer to accept a demotion. “When somebody loses rank, they lose income, they lose a certain status within the department, and they also get set back in terms of a career track,’’ Ragosta said. Agreeing to a demotion, he said, “is an indicator that the officer and his counsel know full well that if he or she were to proceed to a full-blown LEOBOR case, they might very well be fired.”

Carly Iafrate, a lawyer who represents police and other employees in labor disputes, said that “there are hundreds of officers that accept suspensions in excess of two days every year without going to a hearing, but not because there’s anything wrong with that, because they’re accepting responsibility.’’ However, she said, “a demotion is a big, big deal…It typically means they’re trying to avoid something more serious, like termination.”

(Neither Ragosta nor Iafrate had any involvement in the Hammond case.)

After hearing that the officer who oversaw his case had been disciplined, Blackie was quiet for a moment. He then said, “that’s good, because what he was doing wasn’t right.’’ If this could happen to him, Blackie said, “it could happen to anybody.”

Source: https://thepublicsradio.org

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