By Katie Mulvaney, the Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A former Providence police officer is accusing fellow officers and the state police of assaulting him and his son and violating their rights by placing them under arrest due to the color of their skin during a violent encounter in 2012.

Christopher Owens, who served on the force for 10-plus years, and his son Tyler are seeking $1 million in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court.

Christopher Owens, serving as a school resource officer in 2008.

Christopher Owens, serving as a school resource officer in 2008.

According to the lawsuit, Christopher and Tyler Owens, who are African American, were doing yard work on Sept. 19, 2012, when they heard sirens and saw a tow truck driven by Sean Sparfven hit a car on their street. At the time, Sparfven was fleeing the police who suspected him of dealing in stolen vehicles, and he had led officers on a high-speed chase from North Providence.

Christopher Owens, who had worked as a school resource officer at Hope High School, went to assist the woman driving the car that Sparfven had struck. Owens then pursued Sparfven as he attempted run away and tackled him in what turned into a violent struggle. Providence officers, some of whom Owens worked with or attended academy with, arrived along with state police and others.

According to the lawsuit, Owens was then assaulted, handcuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser by Providence officers Martin A. Rawnsley and Frank Furtado, Lt. Oscar Perez and state police Detective Mark McGarrity, despite repeatedly identifying himself as a Providence police officer.

Christopher Owens suffered multiple injuries and received injured in the line of duty benefits. He has been approved by the Retirement Board for a disability pension. He never returned to work.

The lawsuit alleges that although Owens single-handedly apprehended Sparvfen while putting himself in grave danger, he and his son were treated as criminals. “They were assaulted, arrested, handcuffed and placed in the rear of police cars due to the color of their skin and because they are African Americans. One officer remarked that all he saw was a big black guy,” the suit says.

The suit also asserts that some of the officers who arrived on the scene later tried to deny that they participated or were even there. The Providence Police Department acknowledged that the treatment of Owens and his son was motivated by their race, the suit says…

The lawsuit alleges that the city and the department make a practice of providing inadequate training to officers regarding the use of force, preventing racial discrimination and bias, preventing abuse of authority, and recognizing, avoiding and otherwise safeguarding against racial stereotypes and profiling, so as to avoid the misidentification of off-duty and plainclothes African American police officers by other officers, the suit says.

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