Civil Rights Cases

Provided Assistance in Estate’s Wrongful Death Action for Shooting Death of Mother Who Was a Passenger in an Improperly-Stopped Automobile by Providence Police Officer Without Any Reason or Provocation:
Provided research, witness preparation and some trial assistance to Attorneys John A. O’Neill, Jr. and John Kelley in a wrongful death action brought by Leo Choiniere, Administrator on behalf of himself, his children and the estate of his deceased wife, resulting in the highest Rhode Island state court jury verdict to that time in a jury case of this type. The Warwick Police Department initiated a high-speed chase that led them north on Route 95 into Providence. The Providence Police Department spotted an automobile that was of a similar description to the automobile Warwick Police were seeking. Providence police stopped the Choiniere vehicle and surrounded it with marked patrol cars. Leo Choiniere opened his driver’s door and gave the first officer on the scene his license and registration. His wife was seated in the passenger seat and their two young children were in the back seat. The first officer went back to his patrol car and used his radio, describing the car that had been stopped, its occupants, and trying to find out if this was actually the vehicle that Warwick police had been chasing. While this radio check was being made, Officer Martin of the Providence Police arrived at the scene. In cowboy-like fashion, he strode to the driver’s door of the Choiniere vehicle, drew his sidearm with his right hand (it had a “hair trigger”), and while still holding the firearm in that hand reached into the car and stated, “I’ll get him out of the car”. Martin put his left hand on Mr. Choiniere’s left wrist and (still brandishing his gun) put his right hand over Mr. Choiniere’s right shoulder. Martin began pulling Mr. Choiniere and Mrs. Choiniere turned toward her left, watching in amazement. As Martin applied more force, his trigger finger also moved and his sidearm went off. A bullet pierced Mrs. Choinier’s upper left torso and exited through her lower right back while her children screamed in horror.

Mrs. Choiniere was quickly removed from the car but lay bleeding and dying on the grassy embankment of the highway. Mr. Choiniere was held by two other Providence officers while Martin replaced his sidearm in its holster. Captain Russell See of the Providence Police Department arrived on the scene and became the ranking officer there. Officer Martin, shaken, approached See and reported that he had just shot a woman. See replied, “never mind that, get this driver in for a breathalyzer test.” Mrs. Choiniere died that night. Mr. Choiniere was taken into custody but later released as Warwick officers indicated his was not the car they were chasing. The Choiniere children spent most of the night at the Providence Police station in the custody of a matron. With those facts, the jury responded as one would expect.