Late on the night of June 8, 2011 police were called to a local pub by the pub owner to report a case of vandalism. Moments earlier a patron had punched a hole in a bathroom wall. By the time the police arrived the owner, the patron and a mutual friend had already settled the situation and was working out a means for the patron to make restitution to the owner. When the owner told the police that everything was ok, one of the officers told the owner “You called us to handle a problem? Let us handle it. Next time don’t call us if you want to take care of things yourself. Go back inside and let us take care of this.” At this point Ryan O’Loughlin a 34 year-old Navy Veteran and resident of Mystic, Ct., began to argue with the officers that he didn’t do anything wrong and questioned why they wanted to take him in. The vandal was taken to the ground in front of the bar, but Ryan, an innocent man, was made to walk down a side alley. There, as reported by the officers, he was pepper sprayed and hit several times with a nightstick on his legs and back.
On June 9, 2011 Ryan O’Loughlin died at Pequot Medical Center in nearby Groton, Ct, of injuries sustained some 16 hours earlier while being arrested by the Westerly, R.I. police. When the Connecticut Medical Examiner’s office finally released its report in September, 2011 it classified Ryan’s death as homicide due to blunt force trauma and a lacerated liver. The Coroner stated that Ryan’s injuries were caused by blows far more severe than the officers described. It also reported drugs and alcohol were not present.
In December 2011, R.I. D.A. Peter Kilmartin brought the case to Grand Jury and no indictments against the 3 officers involved were handed down. The Grand Jury statement issued by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office said: “The Statewide Grand Jury found the actions of the officers were legally justified.”
In a press release issued by Chief Edward St. Clair and Town Manager Steve Hartford: “It is now clear that those officers were doing their jobs in accordance with their training and we are grateful that this matter has been closed”. It now appears in Rhode Island, police are permitted to apprehend innocent people and beat them to death with no accountability. These officers were never taken off the streets, as is the standard in most cities until an investigation is complete. The Westerly Police department has a decades old history of questionable tactics. Residents live in fear of being stopped or questioned by them. There are countless cases of abuse of power by this department that have gone unreported because the victims are afraid of reprisal. This is a small community and some members of its police force rule by intimidation, provocation and threats. The question was often asked “What is it going to take to get this department cleaned up?” The death of an innocent man is apparently not enough.
The citizens of Westerly, and its surrounding communities, ask that you join us in our fight to bring these men to justice and investigate the lack of leadership, poor training and inappropriate behavior of some members of our law enforcement agency. This is a small community that is in a state of shock and disgust at the injustice of the actions of the Westerly Police Department, the Grand Jury System and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office. The Westerly Police Department MUST be held accountable for its actions. The Attorney General’s office needs to investigate exactly what happened to Ryan O’Loughlin while in the custody of the police and how and why the Grand Jury delivered a verdict that homicide is justified. We hope that Ryan’s death is not in vain and can be the catalyst for change in our community.