Blackstone Valley, Crime, Local News, News, Top Video

DCYF cuts ties with embattled Pawtucket group home agency

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The state’s child welfare agency has cut ties with a Pawtucket group home agency that was the subject of a scathing report detailing drug use, lack of supervision and even sex trafficking at the agency’s three locations.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said Tuesday it was canceling its contract with Blackstone Valley Youth & Family Collaborative. The decision came days after a State House hearing where lawmakers grilled DCYF’s director about why the group home agency had not been shut down.

In a press release, DCYF said they had given Blackstone’s executive director, Daniel Brito, time to remedy the problems detailed in a report by the Office of the Child Advocate, a watchdog over DCYF. On March 1, a DCYF team went to review the corrective actions, and determined the concerns were not fully addressed.

”The safety and well-being of our youth is of the utmost importance,” said DCYF director Trista Piccola. “When we learn of incidents or concerns involving institutional care providers, or anyone who is charged with the care of children and youth in our state, we investigate and take action.”

DCYF will have 30 days to find alternative placements for the 5 young people currently living in the two group homes. A third location was also part of the Child Advocate report, but that house burned down last year and has not re-opened.

While DCYF had stopped sending new referrals to the group home agency, which houses youth ages 16-21, lawmakers at the House Oversight committee last week were shocked that the agency’s contract hadn’t immediately been terminated after the report came out in late January.

”It is my hope that when you leave here, that place will be shut down. Because it needs to be shut down. Even burnt down,” said Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, who stood up and left the meeting after making the remark.

Jennifer Griffith, the Child Advocate, told the committee she didn’t believe the agency could be rehabilitated. The report included revelations about widespread drug abuse, human trafficking and even weapons in the homes run by Blackstone.

A former Blackstone employee is also facing human trafficking charges, accused of housing underage trafficking victims at one of the group homes.

Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Top Video

Pawtucket group home still open after Child Advocate report of drugs, sex trafficking

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Two group homes run by an embattled Pawtucket business are still in operation despite a report released in late January recommending the agency be shut down due to drug use, human trafficking and a general lack of oversight.

The Office of the Child Advocate, which serves as a watchdog over the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), wrote in a scathing report in January that DCYF should cut ties with the Blackstone Valley Youth and Family Collaborative, which runs two group homes licensed by DCYF.

A third home, on North Bend Street, burned down last year and is also described in the report. The other two are still operating, despite the findings of the Child Advocate’s six month investigation. Blackstone houses young men ages 16 to 21 who are placed in the homes by DCYF.

“That home was being run like a criminal enterprise,” said Rep. Patricia Serpa, the chairwoman of the House Oversight committee. “I mean sex, drugs, you name it. And these are children that are supposed to under the oversight of DCYF? It was appalling.”

The Child Advocate, Jennifer Griffith, detailed the findings of the report at an House Oversight committee hearing Thursday night.

“I can’t see why they should continue to be allowed to have children there,” Griffith said. “They’re not supervising these youth.”

The report found that drugs, weapons, alcohol and stolen merchandise were found among the youth in the home, and staff members were not properly supervising the residents or reporting incidents to the police.

In 2017, staff member Raysean Williams was charged with human trafficking, accused of using the Amey Street house to house human trafficking victims, including underage girls under the care of DCYF.

The hearing became emotional at times, with Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, abruptly leaving the room after making an impassioned speech aimed at DCYF Director Trista Piccola.

“It is my hope that when you leave here, that place will be shut down,” she said before leaving. “Because it needs to be shut down. Even burnt down.”

“I can’t deal with this,” Williams said as she stood up and left the room.

Griffith agreed with lawmakers, adding that she had initiated steps with Family Court to get the residents at the group homes placed elsewhere.

“I do not think this place can be rehabilitated,” Griffith said. “I don’t know what we’re waiting for.”

Piccola said DCYF has formally suspended future referrals to Blackstone, but was giving executive director Daniel Brito 30 days to fix the problems.

“I’m not afraid to cut ties if we don’t believe that our kids are getting the care,” Piccola said in an interview with Eyewitness news.  “But we want to be fair, we want to give people an opportunity to remediate the concerns. They either will or they won’t. But we’re prepared to cut ties if they don’t do it.”

Piccola added that only one of the eight residents currently living at the two homes is underage. She also said the department was actively working to place youth with foster families instead of group homes.

Efforts to reach Brito for comment about his agency were unsuccessful.

The North Bend Street home has been rebuilt since the fire, but DCYF has not re-issued a license to Blackstone for that house to become a group home.

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Blackstone Valley, Crime, Local News, News, Top Video

Document: Driver admitted to smoking marijuana, drinking before crash that killed three

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The man accused of causing a crash that killed three young women in Pawtucket last month admitted to police that he smoked two marijuana joints before driving and drank beer earlier in the day, according to a document obtained by Eyewitness News.

The detective’s affidavit filed in Providence District Court includes a summary of an interview with James Belanger, 21, who is facing a list of charges in connection with the April 6 crash on Walcott Street.

Fatima Rosa, Emily Howell, Theresa Leary, all of West Warwick, died in the crash. The three women were in the backseat of the sedan that split in half on impact. A front seat passenger, identified in the affidavit as Anthony Denny, survived.

According to the affidavit, a friend told Belanger, “you are too drunk to talk right now” earlier in the evening before he got behind the wheel.

In an emergency room interview with police, Belanger told a detective he had “a couple of beers earlier in the day” and smoked two marijuana joints before driving. He claimed that a car either hit him or cut him off, causing him to swerve into the pole.

Belanger also told police he left the scene of the crash because he was trying to get help, according to the document.

Police initially charged Belanger with driving to endanger – death resulting, duty to stop – death resulting along with drug possession charges. On April 27, police received the results of a blood test that confirmed Belanger’s blood alcohol content was .139, above the legal limit of .08. Belanger was subsequently charged with DUI – death resulting.

He is due back in court on July 21.

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Blackstone Valley, Local News, News

Pawtucket murder victim’s uncle says nephew was funny, loving father

[anvplayer video=”1146092″] PAWTUCKET, R.I (WPRI) — The uncle of a man shot and killed on Halloween night says the family is still coming to terms with the loss of 29-year-old Matthew Reverdes, a father of a 7-year-old daughter.

“He was a loving person,” said Joe Reverdes in an interview with Eyewitness News. “Loved life, loved his daughter. His daughter was like his best friend, and that’s what breaks my heart.”

Reverdes, the brother of Matthew Reverdes’ mother, described his nephew as funny, with a lot of friends. He said Matthew wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t get himself into too many disputes.

“He never would’ve harmed anybody,” Reverdes said. “Never would start problems with anybody.”

Reverdes said the Harrison Street home where his nephew was shot and killed is where Matthew lived. He said neighbors, including two of the suspects who have been arrested, had an ongoing issue with Matthew over his barking dog.

“It’s crazy how just a little argument, it was nothing worth fighting for…escalated to a gun and killing somebody,” Reverdes said.

Pawtucket Police have not confirmed that an argument led to the shooting.

Pawtucket Police announced on Friday that three suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder, though only with drug delivery charges. Police said more charges are pending further investigation. Juscelina DaSilva, 33, was arrested in Providence Thursday while Julio Cano, 32, was arrested in Framingham, Mass. Trearra Hudgen, 26, was apprehended in Hartford after police tracked her car to a dollar general store.

All three are currently facing drug charges. Narcotics officers were seen going in and out of the Harrison street home the day after the homicide.

Police said DaSilva is being held at the ACI, while Cano and Hudgen are being held in Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively, as fugitives from justice. They are expected to be extradited to Rhode Island.

Joe Reverdes said his family is preparing to bury Matthew on Monday morning. He said while they try to heal, he is forgiving whomever killed his nephew.

“I’m adjusting, to forgive,” Reverdes said. “To try to move forward. Because I can’t bring Matthew back. Nobody can.”

 

Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Providence

State releases RFP for McCoy Stadium study

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The ball is officially rolling on the new McCoy Stadium feasibility study.

The state released the Request for Proposals (RFP) on Friday, soliciting plans from firms with experience designing baseball stadiums who want to take a crack at planning the future of McCoy Stadium.

The expected RFP comes days after a joint announcement from the city of Pawtucket, the state of Rhode Island and the PawSox that the three would commission a public feasibility study on the future of McCoy Stadium, signaling a chance that the PawSox may stay there.

“It’s home,” said longtime PawSox fan Joseph Siravo, who we met at Friday’s game. He’s been coming to McCoy Stadium for 40 years. “It’s a landmark.”

Siravo’s view has been the attitude of many fans ever since the late team owner Jim Skeffington proposed building the team a new waterfront stadium in Providence.

Now, the ownership team is back to considering staying at McCoy, though it has not said the team will remain at the stadium past its current lease date of the end of 2020.  The new study will be a big part of making that decision, as the new firm is asked in the RFP to analyze cost and feasibility of staying at McCoy, along with the economic impact to the city of Pawtucket.

The RFP says qualifying firms will have designed at least two baseball stadiums. The firm will review the conditions of the stadium including lights, seats, traffic and parking, and will have a fairly long leash when it comes to a possible new design.

That includes possibly expanding the footprint of the stadium. The RFP says “the proposed improvements will consider the utilization of adjacent publicly owned land parcels,” which could refer to the city-owned Pariseau Field next door.

The study itself is expected to cost about $100,000, split between the city, state and the PawSox. Once the group contracts with a firm, they’ll be expected to submit plans within 12 weeks.

The final report will be released about six weeks after that, the RFP indicates. The report will be released to the public, unlike a private study previously commissioned by the PawSox.

Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Politics, Top Video

Enforcement of Pawtucket massage parlor ordinance stalled

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – In August, the Pawtucket City Council passed an ordinance giving the city the power to regulate and license so-called “Body Works” spas, including massage parlors that officials believe offer sexual favors to clients.

Mayor Donald Grebien originally vetoed the ordinance, and the Council unanimously overrode that veto.

“There are massage parlors in our city that are being advertised in sexual websites offering sexual favors,” said City Councilor Sandra Cano.

Three months later, those businesses remain open. Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration says they cannot enforce the ordinance because of the way it’s worded.

“We just want to avoid any long-term costs and liabilities,” said Public Safety Director Antonio Pires in an interview with Eyewitness News. Pires says Pawtucket Police are working to close illegal massage parlors, using existing means like zoning ordinances and prostitution laws. But he says the way the current “Body Works” ordinance is written is too broad.

“Really, it applies to YMCAs and other health spas,” he said.

The ordinance requires businesses to be licensed and regulated if they have “pools, baths, saunas, dry saunas, towel treatments, showers, body scrubs and body showers.” It excludes certain medical professionals, athletic trainers, hairdressers, manicurists and licensed massage therapists.

Pires says in theory, spas that are closed under the ordinance could sue the city– and would likely win that lawsuit.

The businesses of concern in Pawtucket offer “body” services that don’t necessarily fall under the state’s massage licensing law. Pires says the city has identified several that are fronting for brothels. Eyewitness News found advertisements for those Pawtucket businesses on Adult Entertainment websites. The ads included inappropriate photos of women and suggestive wording.

Pires says while police can arrest people for prostitution, it’s difficult to prove–and doesn’t prevent more massage parlors from opening.

Ideally, both Pires and Cano say they want the State Legislature to pass a law allowing communities to license and regulate these spas. In the meantime, the Pawtucket Ordinance committee will work on re-phrasing the current ordinance, so the administration can enforce it.

“We want to make sure these places are closed, so the victims can be relieved and in a better position to be saved,” Councilor Cano said.

If the Council isn’t able to pass an ordinance the city will enforce, City Councilor Tim Rudd says the City Council would need to go to the courts to get the city to enforce it.

Blackstone Valley, Education, Local News, News

Pawtucket student arrests trigger questions about school resource officers

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. —  As soon as the video of a school resource officer taking down a student surfaced, Hillary Davis with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union became concerned.

“If you had a principal or a teacher or some other school official who approached that child, they would find ways to calm the kid down, to deal with the situation. They could not arrest them,” she said.

Davis said the ACLU opposes police officers in schools – saying the situation can escalate when a student is arrested.

“The police officer goes into it as a police officer, and very often treats a child like a criminal,” Davis said. “And that’s what happened yesterday.”

She’s referring to the disorderly conduct arrest of a 14-year-old at Tolman High School. The video shows his 17-year-old brother trying to step in.

The older brother was taken down by the police officer and also arrested. The incident spurred protests, resulting in 10 more arrests.

We wanted to know how common it is for districts to employ school resource officers in Rhode Island. The RI Dept. of Education does not keep those statistics, so we contacted all 36 school districts Friday. Of the 26 that got back to us, the vast majority – 22 – have resource officers. Only four districts told us they do not have police officers in their schools.

Barrington’s superintendent said they added a school resource officer just this year.

In Pawtucket, officers have been present in schools since 2007. A City Council Ordinance from that year said Pawtucket police responded to 3,894 total police calls to city schools between 2000 and 2005.

In December 2013, the Council approved another ordinance urging Mayor Donald Grebien to assign officers to every school in the city. In a letter obtained by Eyewitness News, Grebien responded with enthusiasm, announcing he was upping the officer total to six — three in the high schools, and three in the junior high schools.

Grebien declined to do an interview for this story, but his office provided Eyewitness News with a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the Pawtucket Schools and the police department.

In part, the agreement says:

“The SRO shall not be used as a school disciplinarian…If the principal believes an incident is in violation of the law, they may contact the SRO to see if law enforcement action is needed.”

City spokesperson Rico Vota said it’s still under investigation whether the school resource officer from Thursday’s incident was in compliance with that agreement. The city would not identify the officer, but said he was still on duty with full pay.

Ivander and Tyler, the 17-and 14-year-olds that officer arrested Thursday, said they previously trusted the officer.

“I thought he was a good guy. And now I know. True colors really showed,” Ivander said.”

Districts with SROs:

  • Barrington
  • Bristol-Warren
  • Burrillville
  • Chariho
  • Coventry
  • East Providence
  • Exeter-West Greenwich
  • Lincoln
  • Middletown
  • Narragansett
  • Newport
  • North Kingstown
  • Pawtucket
  • Providence
  • Scituate
  • Smithfield
  • South Kingstown
  • Tiverton
  • Warwick
  • West Warwick
  • Woonsocket

Districts without SROs:

  • Foster-Glocester
  • Jamestown
  • New Shoreham
  • North Smithfield

*Not every Rhode Island school district responded to our request about resource officers before this story aired.