The Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. (Kim Tunnicliffe/WBZ NewsRadio)
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WBZ NewsRadio) — It was a chaotic scene outside the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center Wednesday night after a truck plowed into several protesters from a Jewish group who were rallying against the detention of asylum seekers.
Now, with protesters alleging the driver of the truck was a corrections officer, the Rhode Island Attorney General's office and RI State Police are investigating—and a captain at the facility has been placed on leave, though it was not known if that captain was the driver of the truck.
Members of the group Never Again Action were taking part in a protest action outside the facility, blocking the entrance to an employee parking lot, when a black pickup truck approached. The group posted video of what happened next:
Never Again Action said in a statement that about 600 people had gathered at the prison and that about 30 protesters had blocked entrances for several hours before the confrontation with the truck driver.
The protesters claim an "ICE guard" was inside the truck—but in a statement released Thursday afternoon, the detention center would not confirm or deny whether any staff member was driving the truck.
The Wyatt Detention Center did say that Captain Thomas Woodworth was placed on administrative leave "pending the results of the independent investigation being conducted by the Rhode Island State Police, and the Wyatt’s internal investigation."
Wyatt spokesperson Chris Hunter told WBZ NewsRadio the internal probe would address whether or not Woodworth was the one driving, as well as other questions.
The facility added that they support the First Amendment right of citizens to protest on public property outside the facility, and of journalists to report there.
The Rhode Island Attorney General's office said they're investigating what took place.
"Once we have a full understanding of the relevant facts, we will determine how to proceed," the AG's office wrote in a release. "Peaceful protest is a fundamental right of all Americans; it is unfortunate last night's situation unfolded as it did. We urge all to exercise restraint as our investigation proceeds."
Central Falls Mayor James Diossa said he spoke with investigating officials and welcomes their collaboration.
Rhode Island's Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo weighed in, saying she shared the outrage of those who viewed the video.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, also a Democrat, tweeted that he found video of the standoff "very disturbing."
Several people received minor injuries from the truck and from the pepper spray corrections officers sprayed on the crowd, according to protester and former Rhode Island State Representative Aaron Regunberg.
Never Again Action said three were hospitalized for "severe pepper spray exposure" and two were hospitalized after being hit by the truck. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
"When you think how the Wyatt, both as individuals and as an institution, was willing to unleash that kind of violence on peaceful protesters in front of bystanders, in front of media, it's hard to even imagine what the immigrants behind those walls, who have no access to legal resources, no cameras, no accountability, no transparency, what they're being subjected to every day," Regunberg said.
Regunberg said he believes the truck strike was no accident.
"It was absolutely deliberative," he said.
Eighteen people were arrested there last month. The charges were dismissed after protesters agreed to make donations or perform community service.