1 dead in officer-involved shooting; cruiser theft suspect still at large

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A dramatic car chase through the heart of Providence on Thursday morning ended in a violent confrontation near the Providence Place mall.

A male driver is dead, police confirm, and a female passenger was taken to the hospital with serious injuries after officers opened fire on a pickup truck on the I-95 North on-ramp by the mall. Providence Police Maj. David Lapatin said the woman who was shot is expected to survive. Neither person has been identified.

Nine or 10 officers fired their weapons during the incident, according to Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré. Some of the responding officers were wearing body cameras and that footage is now being reviewed, Paré said. Police have confirmed there were no weapons found in the pick-up truck.

A witness said moments before the shooting, the driver refused to exit the truck for police and then drove the vehicle into a cruiser.

Photo Courtesy: Rhode Island State Police

Several prosecutors from the attorney general’s office responded to the shooting scene. As per standard policy with any officer-involved shooting, they will conduct a review of the incident along with the city’s police department and state police to determine if the use of deadly force was legally justified, said Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for the AG’s office.

While it was initially thought the chase involved the same suspect who stole a State Police cruiser around 9 a.m. Thursday, Paré told reporters later that the chase “was not directly related to theft of the trooper vehicle.”

“One has nothing to do with the other,” Paré said. “There was the theft of the trooper car, there was this chase by the police officers and then deadly force was used.” Both incidents remain under investigation.

While Paré said the two people who were shot have no connection to the suspect who stole the cruiser, state police put out a broadcast Thursday morning saying the suspect may have jumped in the back of a white pickup truck, according to Cranston Police Col. Michael Winquist.

An officer patrolling the Silver Lake neighborhood spotted a white pickup driving erratically and pulled the truck over, but the driver took off as the officer approached the vehicle, Winquist said.

The officer followed the truck but lost track of it in the area of Pocasset Avenue, according to Winquist. Following the shooting, Cranston police confirmed from the license plate that it was the same truck that had fled from the patrol officer.

Police later identified the suspect in the cruiser theft as Donald Morgan, and they were still working to track him down as of mid-afternoon. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Rhode Island State Police at (401) 444-1000.

Morgan, 35, of Providence, was arrested Wednesday for possession of a stolen vehicle and obstruction, according to police.

Police said no officers were hurt in either incident. Paré said the officers who fired their weapons have been put on administrative leave per protocol.

The stunning series of events unfolded in broad daylight for more than two hours. The chase quickly snarled traffic downtown, with several highway ramps shut down at its height. All of the ramps have since been reopened and traffic is moving along as normal.

The cruiser was stolen at about 9 a.m. on Route 146. Officials said the suspect was being transported to court for a hearing and the trooper had stopped for a crash when the suspect – who was handcuffed – got into the front seat and drove off.

The cruiser was later found abandoned on Vineyard Street, according to R.I. State Police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin. He said a firearm that was in the cruiser was still there when the vehicle was located.

From there police launched a widespread search for the suspect through the city’s Elmwood neighborhood, with officers brandishing rifles and entering buildings accompanied by police dogs.

Four schools – Lima, Fortes and Leviton Elementary Schools and Gilbert Stuart Middle School – were put on “restricted access” for a short period during the search. A spokeswoman said students and staff were able to move within the buildings, but no one was allowed in or out.

Soon, however, attention turned to a swarm of police vehicles chasing a white pickup truck on Route 10. The chase ended at the on-ramp from Memorial Boulevard to I-95 North adjacent Providence Place, which is where the shooting took place.

A security guard in the nearby Convention Center parking lot said he heard several shots fired. Bullet holes could be seen in the truck, which has Rhode Island license plates.

Investigators used GPS tracking to locate the cruiser, according to Providence Police Col. Hugh Clements, whose department is assisting the state police in the search for the suspect.