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Vigil to mark anniversary of Mystic man's death

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published June 05. 2012 4:00AM
Ryan O'Loughlin died after incident with Westerly cops

Friends, relatives and supporters of Ryan O'Loughlin of Mystic will mark the first anniversary of his death, which occurred 16 hours after he was arrested by Westerly police last June, with a vigil and rally on Saturday at Esker Point Beach in Groton.

The Justice for Ryan O'Loughlin Commemoration and Vigil will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., and the poster for the event states the vigil is to "celebrate his life, commemorate his death, seek peace and justice for all."

"It's been one year since Ryan O'Loughlin's life was cut short tragically at the age of 34 from injuries sustained during a beating by Westerly police," states the poster. "He was an innocent man who committed no crime except demanding to know why he was being arrested."

Those who attend are asked to wear black, which was O'Loughlin's favorite color, and bring their favorite songs, readings and poems about "life, love, loss and peace." The event will be held rain or shine.

One of the organizers, Susan Champouillon, said the decision to hold the vigil closer to Ryan's most recent residence in Mystic and not in Westerly, was made to keep the focus on O'Loughlin and not on Westerly police.

"We wanted this to be in a positive environment," she said, adding that O'Loughlin's family members and clergy are expected to speak on Saturday. Earlier that same day, a memorial event also will be held at a sports bar in O'Loughlin's hometown of Bristol.

On June 8, 2011, the Navy veteran was in Perks & Corks bar on High Street in downtown Westerly when another patron vandalized the bathroom. As O'Loughlin, who knew the bar owner, was trying to get the man to pay for the damage, police arrived after responding to a call of a disturbance.

Susan Champouillon, who witnessed the initial interaction between O'Loughlin and police, has said that when the bar's owner, Bryan Keilty, told police that everything was OK, one of the officers told him, "You called us to handle a problem? Let us handle it. Next time don't call us if you want to take care of things yourself. Go back inside and let us take care of this."

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. 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 state that Barna began to deliver strikes to O'Loughlin's legs before the officers put him on the ground and struggled with him for a few minutes before placing him in handcuffs. O'Loughlin was never charged with assaulting the police officers.

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.

O'Loughlin's death was classified by the Connecticut medical examiner as a homicide. Details of the autopsy released last fall by the Providence attorney representing the O'Loughlin family indicate that he had suffered a dozen injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and legs during the arrest, including the lacerated liver that caused him to bleed to death. Tests showed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

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 O'Loughlin. No explanation was given. This angered many of O'Loughlin's supporters who then called on federal authorities to look into his death. The O'Loughlin family has said it plans to file a lawsuit against Westerly police.

The FBI is reviewing whether Westerly police violated O'Loughlin's civil rights after receiving a request to look into the case. The FBI will determine whether the allegations have merit and whether they rise to the level of a federal crime. Champouillon said she was interviewed by the FBI several weeks ago.

An online petition drive at http://www.change.org/petitions/justice-for-ryan-o-loughlin, which calls on the FBI and federal justice officials to investigate O'Loughlin's death, had 3,113 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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