How A Highway Pursuit Ended In Deadly Force

Nov 14, 2017

The city of Providence has suffered a trauma. That’s the view of Roger Williams University Criminal Justice Professor Sean Varano, who weighed in Monday on the fatal police shooting of a suspect on Interstate-95. 

In a conversation with RIPR's John Bender, Varano said questions linger about the shooting, which began with the theft of a state police cruiser.  Searching for the suspect, police began stopping drivers in white pickup trucks based on a tip from a witness, who reported seeing someone matching the suspect's description and wearing handcuffs step into a white pickup. 

When police in Cranston noticed what they described as erratic driving by a man in a similar vehicle, their attempts to pull the truck over resulted in a chase. That chase ended in Providence with officers shooting more than 40 rounds at the pickup.

Their bullets killed the driver and seriously injured his passenger.

Police later learned that the driver, Joseph Santos, was not the suspect wanted in the theft of the state police cruiser. That man, identified by police as Donald Morgan, was later caught in Cumberland, a little more than a dozen miles away from where the police shooting took place.

Santos, who was 32, appears to have had prior troubles with the law. He was wanted on two warrants when he refused to stop for police, and members of his family have told other media outlets that he may have been frightened at the idea of going back to jail.

Both his brother and his sister have described Santos as trying to get his life back together after struggling with addiction and legal troubles.

But could Providence and State Police have avoided the shooting that resulted in Santos' death? Could they have handled the car chase differently and seen a less deadly outcome? Were police, as they have argued, following protocol when they unleashed those 40 rounds on the pickup truck, its driver and its passenger?

Varano said police are likely to use this incident to better understand how to respond to high speed chases in the future.

As to whether the use of deadly force was justified in this case, Varano said that is something authorities will have to determine as they examine the details of what happened in Providence.