The corrections officer who allegedly drove his hulking pickup truck into a crowd of protesters outside the detention facility where he worked has resigned from the privately run prison, officials there said.
The Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility had placed Capt. Thomas Woodworth on administrative leave after widely circulated video showed him on Wednesday behind the wheel of a Chevy Silverado that swerved into a crowd of activists demonstrating against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which works with the Central Falls, R.I., prison. By Friday, Woodworth had left his post, the facility announced in a terse statement.
“The incident which occurred on August 14 remains under active investigation by the Rhode Island State Police and under internal investigation by the Wyatt,” the statement read.
The protesters, members of the Jewish activist group Never Again Action, were sitting on the pavement, trying to block staff from parking at the facility. When Woodworth accelerated into them, some scattered but others were struck.
They were treated at a hospital for injuries including, in one 64-year-old protester’s case, a broken leg and internal bleeding, said Amy Anthony, the group’s spokesperson. She said other guards pepper-sprayed protesters while local police declined to intervene. After the confrontation, Woodworth strolled into the prison.
Woodworth’s resignation should be only the beginning, Anthony said in a Friday. She called on the state to continue its investigation into actions she said were illustrative of the way detained migrants are treated.
“If these officers felt empowered to attack a group of protesters in front of the public and the media,” Anthony said, “imagine what kind of violence must be taking place inside the prison, out of [sight], against vulnerable immigrants and people of color.”
She said Woodworth should face criminal charges.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha (D) announced on Thursday that his office would assist the state police in its investigation.
“Once we have a full understanding of the relevant facts, we will determine how to proceed,” he said in a statement. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans; it is unfortunate last night’s situation unfolded as it did.”
The Wyatt Detention Facility has contracts with ICE to house immigration detainees, the Providence Journal previously reported, and is operated by the Central Falls Detention Facility Corp. The quasi-public entity is overseen by a board appointed by the Central Falls mayor.
The disturbing scene echoed Charlottesville in August 2017 — almost exactly two years earlier — when a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd protesting a white supremacist demonstration, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
A bipartisan group of state and national lawmakers condemned the guard and called for him to be disciplined.
“Expecting swift and decisive action by law enforcement,” state Rep. Blake Filippi, the Republican House minority leader, wrote in a tweet. “The actions by the truck driver don’t appear to be in self defense, or defense of others, from imminent harm - the only justification for violence.”
The state’s Democratic governor, Gina Raimondo, said the activists were exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.
“Our state and our nation were built on the idea that everyone has a right to express their opinion publicly and peacefully,” she said in a statement. “President Trump’s immigration policies are immoral, and these Rhode Islanders were exercising their constitutional right to protest.”
Tim Elfrink contributed to this report.