By Joseph B. Nadeau
CENTRAL FALLS – A protest involving several hundred people and organized by a national activist group resulted in a confrontation between protesters and guards at the Wyatt Detention Facility on Wednesday night, with several people being injured after a vehicle entering the complex hit protesters blocking the roadway, with several others being pepper sprayed after surrounding the vehicle, according to people at the scene.
The protest against the privately-operated federal detention facility, located on High Street, began at 7 p.m.
Protesters carried signs, sang, and stood or sat in the roadway blocking vehicle access to and from the Wyatt parking area.
The protest was peaceful and Central Falls police officers remained close to the scene but did not interfere with the activists.
At about 10 p.m., however, tensions escalated when a vehicle arrived at the facility and attempted to enter the facility’s parking area. According to witnesses, protesters blocked the vehicle from proceeding, and several were struck.
Protesters then surrounded the vehicle and began screaming at the driver, who witnesses said appeared to be a Wyatt guard. The driver appeared to radio for assistance, and shortly thereafter, a group of guards came out to the parking area and made their way to the vehicle. To disperse the crowd surrounding the vehicle, guards allegedly deployed pepper spray.
According to Dr. Michael Fine, who was at the scene, one or possibly two people were transported to hospital for injuries that may have been related to being struck by the vehicle, and several others were treated for exposure to the spray. Fine is a health policy advisor to Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and is the former director of the state Department of Health. He said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening. Fine had been participating in the protest.
The protest was organized by the group Never Again, which says it opposes Wyatt’s agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigration detainees. A similar protest in July resulted in 18 arrests by police.