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Civil rights community focuses on thorough investigation

The news that Esteban Carpio, who is charged in the murder of Providence police Detective James L. Allen, allegedly attacked three correctional officers at the ACI will do nothing to diminish his stature as one of the most infamous criminal defendants in recent Rhode Island history. The sensitive nature of the case, in which Allen was fatally shot inside a conference room at the police station, explains why the civil rights community continues to offer a subdued response to the question of whether excessive force was used on Carpio.

In a letter due to be released Friday, April 29, a handful of civil rights groups, including the local affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Urban League, and the Rhode Island Commission for Civil Rights, will acknowledge the difficulty being experienced by the police department in the aftermath of Allen’s death, says ACLU executive director Steve Brown. "It does not attempt in any way to pin blame or responsibility on anyone, because we acknowledge that we don’t know what happened," Brown says, referring to Carpio, whose face was bloodied, swollen, and partially obscured by a "spit shield" during his arraignment last week. "As Chief [Dean] Esserman mentioned, Mr. Carpio did jump out of a third-story window, which had to be part of the reason for his condition."

The FBI is leading an investigation into whether excessive force was used on Carpio. Brown says the civil rights groups’ letter will emphasize the importance of "gathering all available evidence," such as possible footage from surveillance cameras downtown and in the locations where Carpio was held. "The letter also encourages full and timely disclosure of this evidence by the agencies [involved], and we think that full and timely disclosure will bolster the community’s support of the inquiry."

An audiotape of Carpio’s arraignment in Providence on Monday, April 18, indicates that Chief District Court Judge Albert E. DeRobbio did not inquire about Carpio’s condition, which led one woman to gasp, "Oh my God, look at what they did to him," and family members to allege brutality.

John MacDonald, president of the Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, says Rhode Island judges generally do not comment or inquire if a defendant has visible injuries. In Carpio’s case, "If there was a concern for his safety, his attorney would have brought that up," MacDonald says. The defense lawyer expressed confidence that an adequate inquiry will take place into the question of whether excessive force was used.

Andrew Horwitz, an associate professor of law at Rogers Williams University’s Ralph R. Papitto School of Law, says a judge’s obligation at arraignment is mainly to make sure that there is a factual basis for a charge, to record a plea, and to set bail. "Were I the judge, I would almost certainly ask about medical treatment and try to get some assurance," he says, "but I wouldn’t go so far as to say a judge should" ask about such things in the Carpio situation.

Joshua Rubenstein, the Northeast regional director of Amnesty International USA, says of the suspect, "We all saw what he looked like on TV and, of course, it was shocking to see someone who appeared to be severely beaten. Now that the FBI has said that there will be an investigation, that is all that a group like Amnesty could call for at this stage. I don’t know whether it would have been proper for the judge to raise a question [about Carpio’s condition]. At the bottom line, there has got to be an investigation, so now we just have to wait and see."

Issue Date: April 29 - May 5, 2005
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