Discover more from Steve Ahlquist
Governor McKee breaks silence on Woonsocket encampment visits
"I am sure that if we knew there were guns there his security detail would not let us go to something like that," said Matt Sheaff, Senior Communications Advisor to the Governor.
Today, Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee finally broke his silence on the Woonsocket encampment raid he was on last Friday where two men were arrested on drug and weapons charges.
“The Governor was in Woonsocket because the Mayor invited him and Housing Secretary Pryor to see the current encampment situation in Woonsocket firsthand,” responded Matt Sheaff, Senior Communications Advisor to Governor McKee, when I asked him about the encampment raid the Governor was a party to last Friday.
As detailed here, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt invited the Governor to tour several encampments of unhoused people in her city. At the last encampment visited, the Governor witnessed two men being arrested on drug and weapons charges.
I caught up with Sheaf and the Governor at an unrelated State House event around noon. In-person, I was able to ask Sheaf some more in-depth questions.
"The Governor did not know there were guns there prior to his visit," said Sheaf. "This wasn't the first time he's toured encampments. He's done it in Providence and other places. We didn't know what was going to happen before we got there."
"The police knew there were guns there," I said.
"Ahead of time?" asked Sheaf.
"It's in their police report," I replied.
"I am sure that if we knew there were guns there his security detail would not let us go to something like that," said Sheaf.
Sheaf also told me that the Governor had been invited by the Mayor only two days prior to the encampment visits. According to the police report, police knew that there were guns in the encampment, and who had them, a full week before the visit.
WPRO Reporter Steve Klamkin: Last week you toured a homeless encampment with the Mayor of Woonsocket. Come to find out, going in the mayor and the police knew that some of those people were armed. Some of those people had guns. Did you know that?
Governor McKee: Well, I don't know whether they had that information prior to my visit. I was there on the invite of the mayor to see the circumstances of what was going on in Woonsocket, just like I am working with all the municipalities. We're going to continue to do the work that we're doing [with] the funding that the General Assembly has approved that I put in [the budget] to keep addressing [these] issues.
Steve Ahlquist: In the police report, the arresting officer said they knew about [the guns] a week prior. Detectives told him there were guns and he knew what to look for.
Governor McKee: Well again, you can get the information from the police department. All I know is I was up there on the invitation of the mayor and it is an issue that where we continue to do the work. Stefan Pryor continued doing the work and he was there as well.
Steve Ahlquist: I also heard that if your [security] detail had known there were guns present they they wouldn't have allowed you to go on that tour.
Governor McKee: Yeah, again, that's all subjective. Look, I was there on an invite from the mayor to take a look at issues that she was dealing with and working on in her community and trying to help out.
Steve Klamkin: Did you know going in that there would be arrests?
Governor McKee: No. Like I said, I was invited by the mayor to take a look at what was going on and that's what we did.
Steve Ahlquist: What did you see? What was the arrest like? Did you see it happen?
Governor McKee: I thought that the police handled it very professionally.
The Valley Breeze's Ethan Shorey interviewed Mayor Baldelli-Hunt about the encampment visits she arranged. Neither Shorey nor Baldelli-Hunt seemed aware that the arrest report calls much of what the Mayor said into question.
Baldelli-Hunt said, wrote Shorey, that "she believes it’s time to expose these problems without ready solutions for what they are, which is part of the reason she organized a tour of three homeless encampments last Friday to show city and state officials exactly what Woonsocket is experiencing." The Mayor described the tour as “soft visits” and not eviction raids.
In Mayor Baldelli-Hunt's telling, officials discovered "guns, knives, and plentiful drug paraphernalia" and "immediately turned the scene over to law enforcement."
The arrest report of Woonsocket Police Department Patrol Officer Robert Frye describes a very different order of events, with Frye explaining that he ordered the two suspects away from their tents and then found evidence of drugs, drug paraphernalia, and ultimately guns. The Mayor is, at best, confused about what happened, and at worst is deliberately spreading misinformation.
Contrary to the evidence, Mayor Baldelli-Hunt speculated that the situation would have been very different if "a gun had been used in a carjacking at the nearby red light." According to the police report, "The prior week Detectives had obtained information that Junior was in possession of two firearms, one being a semi-automatic and another being a revolver and he was seeking retaliation due to a previous, unknown event." In other words, police understood the possession of the guns to be for the settling of a grudge, not a random carjacking.
Far from being a random visit, the evidence points to last Friday's encampment raid as carefully orchestrated theater intended to sway the attitudes of the Governor, the Housing Secretary, and the members of the City Council [Christopher Beauchamp, Scott McGee, and Brian Thompson] invited to join. The police knew there were guns present. They separated the suspects from their tents and ordered them to speak to the officials on the tour. Then, finding the drugs and weapons they were looking for, they arrested the two suspects in front of the Governor, pretending to be surprised.
As documented by my reporting both here and on UpriseRI, Mayor Baldelli-Hunt has long been antagonistic to unhoused people in her city, whether by bulldozing encampments or underfunding aid to people who need help.
Baldelli-Hunt's attitude towards unhoused people is best encapsulated by this statement from Shorey's piece:
"One false narrative that should be dispelled is that housing solves homelessness, [Mayor Baldelli-Hunt] added. The people in these encampments don’t have the life skills to be able to get their trash to the city garbage can, never mind pay rent and hold a job to be able to afford it."
Steve Ahlquist is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Note: The above is a paid advertisement. Every penny made is poured back into my reporting. Let me know your thoughts about such advertisements in the comments!