PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A Rhode Island police officer was arrested Thursday, accused of brutally beating a teenage boy and then encouraging fellow officers to lie about it to the FBI.
Woonsocket police Officer John H. Douglas pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of violating a person's civil rights and obstruction of justice. He was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.
He did not speak during his brief arraignment. But his lawyer defended him afterward, saying he was "a model policeman."
In September, the FBI launched an investigation after the 16-year-old boy appeared in state juvenile court severely injured and said several police officers beat him up.
Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah said at the time, that the boy had a boot mark on his back and one of his eyes was swollen shut. The boy's lawyer, Robert Laren, said officers shot him with a stun gun, broke his eye socket and brutally beat him in the police station.
"It shouldn't have happened. I'm upset that it happened," Jeremiah told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The indictment, handed down Wednesday, said Douglas punched and struck a 16-year-old juvenile Sept. 15. It did not go into other detail, and the U.S. Attorney's Office would not say if other officers would be indicted. The two counts together carry a maximum 30-year sentence.
The boy has not been identified because he is a juvenile.
Cliff Montiero, the Providence NAACP president who had called for the FBI investigation, said he was pleased with the charges and hoped other officers who may have been involved would be held accountable.
"If one person was charged, it's better than what we've gotten historically" in other cases of alleged police abuse, Montiero said. "I'm happy that we have one, this is unusual — that a police officer is being charged by doing something that's disrespectful to the uniform that he wears."
Douglas, 34, of Blackstone, Mass., has been with the Woonsocket police department for five years and spent four years in the Marine Corps before being honorably discharged, his lawyer Peter DiBiase said.
Woonsocket police spokesman Lt. Eugene Jalette had no immediate comment.
He previously said the boy was acting suspiciously when the police stopped him. An officer recognized the boy as having escaped from a probation program. When officers tried to arrest him, the teenager threw one of them to the ground, splitting the officer's lip, Jalette said in September.
He said there was a foot chase and a struggle, then the boy was taken to a hospital for injuries that officers described as minor. Afterward, the boy was taken to the police station and then turned over to the custody of the state agency that runs the probation program.
Montiero and Laren said the boy told them he was brutally beaten by several officers during the arrest and then twice more at the police station.
The boy is black and the officer is white. Montiero, a former Providence police officer, said he did not know if race played a role in the alleged beating, but said blacks historically have not been treated well by police in the state.