Navy veteran's death after arrest in Westerly called homicide

Family photo Ryan O'Loughlin

Westerly - In the early morning hours of June 9, three Westerly police officers arrested Ryan O'Loughlin of Mystic after a disturbance outside a downtown wine bar.

The officers said they pepper-sprayed and struck the 34-year-old Navy veteran in the legs with a baton after he refused to put his hands behind his back.

Later in the day, O'Loughlin posted bond and returned home. Late that afternoon, he began vomiting, and his wife took him to the Pequot Health Center in Groton where he died 16 hours after his arrest. For the past three months, O'Loughlin's family has waited for the Connecticut medical examiner to determine how he died.

On Tuesday, his widow, parents and sister stood behind their attorney Mark Dana as he announced that the autopsy report shows O'Loughlin was the victim of homicide.

During a news conference in his Providence office, Mark Dana said O'Loughlin sustained 12 separate injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and legs during his arrest, including the lacerated liver that caused him to bleed to death.

"In short, Ryan was beaten to death," he said.

Dana criticized former Westerly Police Chief Edward Mello for publicly saying a few days after O'Loughlin died that his death was not the result of excessive force.

"We felt at the time that was irresponsible, and in light of this report it was factually incorrect," Dana said, adding that Mello's statement now seems "ludicrous."

"He made statements to protect his officers instead of finding out what happened," he said.

Mello retired this month and is now police chief in Jamestown, R.I. Capt. Edward St. Clair is in charge of the Westerly department. He and the three officers involved in the arrest did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Dana said that Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office are investigating O'Loughlin's death, and that he expects a grand jury to be convened to determine if charges should be filed against the three officers.

"I hope they look at this as a manslaughter case. The fact they were wearing (police) uniforms shouldn't give them a free pass," he said.

Dana said he will also file a lawsuit against the Westerly Police Department on behalf of O'Loughlin's family alleging civil rights and other violations.

During Tuesday's news conference, O'Loughlin's widow, Lucia Uchalova, his parents Kevin and Diane O'Loughlin and his sister Tracey Robertson, all of Bristol, fought back tears as they talked about Ryan and his death.

Ochalova, a native of Ukraine, said that when O'Loughlin called to say he had been arrested she thought he was in a safe place.

"Ryan died because the Westerly police beat him up so badly. They never gave him any medical help that would have saved his life," she said. "I will never be able to understand why anyone could treat another person like this."

She said his death makes her angry because he had served his country and loved it very much.

She said she now wants to make sure that what happened to her husband never happens to anyone else.

Kevin O'Loughlin said his son's only offense was the words he used.

"His family and friends ask for justice for Ryan," he said.

His mother Diane said her son was always the person who would try to stop a fight not start one. She added that she hopes the town of Westerly starts asking questions about its police department's training and procedures.

Dana said that during the arrest, O'Loughlin never assaulted any of the officers but only refused to put his hands behind his back. He said toxicology tests showed O'Loughlin had no drugs or alcohol in his system. He said the autopsy also showed he had a restriction in his aorta but that was not found to have caused his death.

O'Loughlin was arrested at 12:52 a.m. outside the Perks & Corks on High Street. Later that morning, he was brought to the Fourth Division District Court in Wakefield, R.I., where he pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He was released on bond in the afternoon.

Perks & Corks owner Bryan Keilty has said he called police when another man punched holes in the bathroom wall of his business. He said O'Loughlin seemed to know the man, whom police identified as Daniel Smith, 28, of 21 Cottrell St., Mystic, and he followed him outside in an effort to persuade him to pay for the damage.

According to reports by officer Terence Malaghan and Sgt. David Turano, O'Loughlin swore at the officers. Officer Greg Barna told O'Loughlin to put his hands behind his back because he was under arrest, but he refused and resisted being handcuffed.

Barna also pepper-sprayed O'Loughlin, who, although "visibly affected" by the spray, continued to refuse to comply with officers' orders, according to the officers' reports.

The report states that Barna began to deliver strikes to O'Loughlin's legs. The officers then took him to the ground but struggled with him for a few minutes before placing him in handcuffs, according to the report.

While the Connecticut Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner typically releases the cause and manner of death when an autopsy is complete, the office said Tuesday it would not release any information.

Dana said he has had no success locating witnesses to the incident, and that the police have refused to turn over information to him.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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