Homicide by police?

Blunt abdominal trauma. Homicide.

That is what the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has listed as the cause of death for Ryan O'Loughlin. The 34-year-old Mystic man died at 5:10 p.m. on June 9 at the Pequot Medical Center, following his arrest and detention by Westerly police.

"He was beaten to death," Mr. O'Loughlin's family's lawyer, Mark Dana, said Tuesday, disclosing details of the autopsy. "That is uncontested from this report."

While there is a presumption of innocence in the American judicial system until a defendant is proven guilty, the findings of the chief medical examiner's office are disturbing and suggest this case requires an exhaustive investigation to sort out exactly what happened.

Apparently that is happening. Mr. Dana said the Rhode Island State Police and Rhode Island Attorney General's Office are investigating Mr. O'Loughlin's death, and he expects the seating of a grand jury to determine if charges should be brought against the three officers involved.

Police arrested Mr. O'Loughlin outside Perks & Corks on High Street just before 1 a.m. on June 9 for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Police said Mr. O'Loughlin did not cooperate, refused to be handcuffed, and even after being pepper-sprayed, would not obey. The police report says one officer did strike Mr. O'Loughlin's legs.

What is notable is that Mr. O'Loughlin was not charged with assault on a police officer. There is no evidence that he fought with police, just that he did not obey when asked to put his hands behind his back for handcuffing.

Yet, according to Mr. Dana, the autopsy report states that Mr. O'Loughlin sustained 12 separate injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and legs during his arrest, including a lacerated liver that caused him to bleed to death. On the day of his arrest authorities released him from the District Court in South Kingston, R.I., and about four hours later Mr. O'Loughlin died at the Pequot Medical Center.

A few days later the Westerly police chief at the time, Edward Mello, said publicly that Mr. O'Loughlin's death was not a result of excessive force and suggested he may have had a pre-existing medical condition. That was inappropriate conduct by Chief Mello. Rather than take the side of his officers, the chief should have sought help from another law enforcement agency to investigate what happened, while placing the arresting officers on administrative leave or desk duty.

A grand jury will now decide if the police actions were criminal. This is an extremely troubling case of potential police brutality.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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