PROVIDENCE, RI — The RI Attorney General’s office has ruled the shooting of a WPD HQ knife attacker trying to stab an officer Jan. 14, 2022 “objectively reasonable and necessary.”
According to police, at 4:20 p.m. that day a group of patrol officers were entering the main lobby of Police Headquarters at 99 Veterans Memorial Drive from the community room after a briefing and were confronted by Jacob Thomas, 29, of Warwick, holding a knife. Thomas charged the officers, striking Officer Jessica Masso in the torso with the knife. The knife was blocked by Masso’s bullet proof vest, preventing injury, police report.
The other officers with Masso were Oliver Pinheiro, Michael Bailey and Sgt. Walter Larson.
Moments prior to the attack, officers had noted Thomas’s presence in the parking lot, exiting his car and getting on his knees beside it in apparent prayer before entering the Warwick Police headquarters lobby. Officers inside the community room also took note of Thomas as he paced the lobby and clenched his fingers in what one officer described as an apparent preparation for a fight, according to the Attorney General’s Office report, written by Deputy Attorney General Adi Goldstein and Assistant Attorney General Daniel Guglielmo. The report relied on video footage of the attack and officers’ response, a 52-page RI State Police report and 8-page RISP incident report, reports from two RISP detectives, the Warwick Police arrest report, WPD radio recordings, the RI State Police forensics report and 713 RISP forensics images, an RI State Crime Lab report and the written narrative testimony of 17 Warwick Police officers.
According to the RIAG report, Larson exited the community room with the other officers behind him, and asked Thomas, “Hey, sir, what’s going on?” according to the report.
Thomas responded by raising a knife he had been holding and running toward the officers, yelling, ‘Kill me.” The officers backed away from Thomas. Larson backed away toward the attacker’s left into a stairwell, telling Thomas to drop the weapon. Thomas switched his focus to Masso, who had backed against the open community room door and her fellow officers. Thomas stabbed at her chest, cutting her left shirt pocket but failing to penetrate the officer’s protective vest.
At this point, Larson fired his weapon at Thomas’s back, hitting him “six or seven” times. Bailey also fired at Thomas through the window of the community room door. The entire exchange is estimated to have occurred within four seconds.
“Events were unfolding exceptionally fast and without any warning,” according to the report.
Thomas remained on his feet after the first burst of gunfire, bobbing up and down on the tiled floor, “like a boxer,” retreating to the area of the lobby’s entrance before charging back at the officers in the community room. Pinheiro yelled at him to “drop the knife,” but Thomas refused, and Pinheiro and Masso fired their weapons at him. Thomas fell to the floor near the door to the information desk, still holding the knife. He attempted to get up but wasn’t able to.
At this time, Lt. John Curley and Sgt. Charles Austin, responding to the sound of gunfire, entered the lobby with their weapons drawn. Curley, the ranking officer, yelled instructions to prevent multiple officers from firing and harming each other. He also repeatedly commanded Thomas to drop the knife, but he continued to ignore the officers. Curley ordered Officer Distelhurst to use his Taser on Thomas, and the officer did so, causing him to drop the knife within seconds.
“The entire incident, from the first display of the knife to the deployment of the taser, lasted approximately one minute,” according to the report.
Larsen pulled Thomas away from the knife and the officers handcuffed Thomas. About four minutes later, Warwick Rescue arrived and his handcuffs were removed so he could be treated with chest seals to stop his bleeding, according to the report. As the Rescue transported him to Rhode Island Hospital, paramedics encouraged him to keep breathing. Thomas responded to them, “Please, let me die.”
According to the report, “Thomas made his intentions clear as he pleaded with the officers to kill him. He got close enough to Officer Masso with the knife to cause a slit in her shirt. It was only then that officers reacted with deadly force by discharging their weapons. This use of force by the officer was clearly justified as Thomas presented a risk of imminent serious bodily injury or death to Officer Masso. Officers had no warning of this assault and were left with few options as they were cornered [by Thomas]. With just a few seconds to assess the situation and react, officers fired their weapons.”
Additional details in the report included:
- A single strike with the knife to the neck or chest of an officer could cause death or serious injury
- Tasers, while available to the officers at the time, are known to be ineffective at the close range involved in the attack
- Tasers are also prone to being rendered ineffective by clothing and were thus not the choice to stop the attack by the “quickest means possible.”
The full RIAG report on the WPD HQ knife attacker is embedded below and is also available on the RIAG’s website.
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