Published May 11. 2012 10:00AM Updated May 12. 2012 12:19AM
The FBI is reviewing whether the civil rights of Ryan O'Loughlin of Mystic were violated.
O'Loughlin died last June after he was released from the custody of Westerly police. He had been arrested outside a Westerly bar.
Special Agent Greg Comcowich, spokesman at the FBI's Boston office, said the agency has received a request to review the allegation. "Like all civil rights allegations, we review each one to determine whether they have merit," he said.
Comcowich noted that a review does not mean the FBI is conducting an investigation.
The purpose of the review is twofold: to determine whether the allegations have merit and whether they rise to the level of a federal crime. As part of the review, the agency will ask for more information and conduct interviews, said Comcowich, who would not discuss when the review started or when it will end.
Comcowich said the public will only find out the results of the review if arrests are made.
An online petition drive, launched several weeks ago, called on the FBI and federal justice officials to investigate O'Loughlin's death. As of Friday morning, 2,856 people had signed the petition.
O'Loughlin's death was classified by the Connecticut medical examiner as a homicide after he died at Pequot Health Center in Groton 16 hours after his arrest by Westerly police. He had suffered a dozen injuries, including a lacerated liver.
In February, the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office announced that a grand jury had decided not to indict the three officers who had arrested the 34-year-old Navy veteran.
According to reports filed by Westerly police Officer Terence Malaghan and Sgt. David Turano, O'Loughlin swore at them as they questioned him in the early morning hours of June 9 outside Perks & Corks. Another officer, Greg Barna, told O'Loughlin to put his hands behind his back because he was under arrest, but O'Loughlin refused and resisted being handcuffed, according to the reports.
Barna pepper-sprayed O'Loughlin, who, although "visibly affected" by the spray, continued to refuse to comply with officers' orders, the reports stated.
The reports also stated that Barna began to deliver strikes to O'Loughlin's legs before the officers took O'Loughlin to the ground and struggled with him for a few minutes before placing him in handcuffs.
Later that day, O'Loughlin appeared in Fourth Division District Court in Wakefield, R.I., on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He posted bond and returned home. Late that afternoon he began to vomit, and his wife, Lucia Ochalova, took him to the Pequot Health Center, where he died.
Details of the autopsy report released last fall by the Providence attorney representing the O'Loughlin family indicate that he had suffered injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and legs during the arrest, including the lacerated liver that caused him to bleed to death.
The O'Loughlin family plans to file a lawsuit against Westerly police.