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No indictments for Westerly police in Mystic man's death

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published 02/02/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 02/01/2012 11:50 PM
Ryan O'Loughlin's family, attorney stunned by R.I. grand jury's finding

A Rhode Island grand jury has decided not to indict any of the Westerly police officers involved in the June 2011 arrest of Ryan O'Loughlin of Mystic, who suffered internal injuries and died a few hours after being released from custody.

O'Loughlin's death has been ruled a homicide by the Connecticut medical examiner.

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General announced Wednesday that a statewide grand jury had just concluded its investigation into the circumstances surrounding O'Loughlin's arrest and had "declined to return indictments against any member of the police department."

"The Statewide Grand Jury found that the actions of the officers were legally justified," the office said in a press release.

"Consistent with the practice in cases of this kind, the Office of Attorney General brought the matter before a Grand Jury to promote integrity in the process and trust in the outcome. It is the responsibility of the Grand Jury to determine the facts, apply the law to those facts and to decide whether anyone may be charged with criminal wrongdoing," the release stated.

The office also said state law does not allow it to release any further details surrounding the grand jury probe.

The attorney for O'Loughlin's family, Mark Dana of Providence, said Wednesday that the family was devastated by the decision. "They had hoped for some responsibility and some justice," he said. "There's never been a question about how Ryan died. There are questions that need to be answered. This just doesn't make any sense.

"Something happened in that grand jury room, but we'll never know what it was. It's apparent the Westerly police can do whatever they want without any repercussions."

Dana said there is an option of asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case and file charges, but he said that agency is often reluctant to do so when state authorities have already investigated.

Dana said he does plan to file a lawsuit against the police department and officers on behalf of the family in the next few months. The grand jury's decision not to indict the officers does not hurt his civil case because there is a lower standard of proof in a civil action, he added. "It doesn't mean that they didn't use excessive force," he said.

Dana said O'Loughlin's widow, parents and other family members said they can not understand how the officers were not indicted, considering the injuries O'Loughlin suffered.

Dana, who noted that he, too, was surprised there were no indictments, said he understands that officers sometimes have to use force to make arrests. But in this case, he added, O'Loughlin was a bystander who suffered a lacerated liver that caused him to bleed to death. O'Loughlin was never charged with assaulting any of the officers.

Westerly police Chief Edward St. Clair and Town Manager Steven Hartford released the following statement Wednesday: "The Jury verdict brings a conclusion to a very difficult and sad chapter. The family members of Mr. O'Loughlin have suffered an unspeakable loss. Nothing can or will change that. A thorough and independent review of the facts as to whether our officers acted correctly has been made. We have been urging everyone from the beginning to wait for a fact based conclusion and not to rely on speculation and a one sided version of events.

"An independent Grand jury with no connection to Westerly or the Westerly Police department or any of the investigators has reviewed all of the facts, all of the evidence, all of the witnesses, including the Ct. Medical examiner and their conclusion was simple but clear: the actions of our officers were legally justified. 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 brought to a conclusion."

In the early morning hours of July 9, 2011, three Westerly police officers arrested O'Loughlin after a disturbance outside Perks & Corks on High Street in downtown Westerly. 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 appeared in Fourth Division District Court in Wakefield, R.I., on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, posted bond and returned home. Late that afternoon, he began vomiting and his wife, Lucia Ochalova, took him to the Pequot Health Center in Groton, where he died 16 hours after his arrest.

Last September, Dana announced that the autopsy report showed O'Loughlin was the victim of a homicide. He said the report showed 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," Dana said at the time.

During the arrest, Dana said, 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.

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. O'Loughlin followed Smith 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 O'Loughlin 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 and struggled with him for a few minutes before placing him in handcuffs, according to the report.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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