On September 19, 2012, Christopher Owens, a 10-year veteran of the Providence Police Department, was spending his day off doing yard work with his son when they witnessed a tow truck crash into a car.
Unbeknownst to Owens, the driver, Sean Sparfven, was fleeing from police investigating an auto theft. The off-duty officer administered first aid to a woman in the car Sparfven hit, then noticed Sparfven trying to run from the scene.
Owens tackled Sparfven, who is also black, and was violently struggling with the suspect when police arrived.
According to the lawsuit, six police officers – some of whom Owens worked or trained with – assaulted and handcuffed Owens and placed him in the back of a cruiser, even though he repeatedly identified himself as a police officer.
Owens' son, who had worked undercover with the Providence police, was assaulted, punched in the face, handcuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser by police, the lawsuit says.
Owens suffered multiple injuries and received injured in the line of duty benefits, the Providence Journal reported. He has been approved by the retirement board for a disability pension. He never returned to work.
In the lawsuit, filed this month in district court, Owens alleges that even though he single-handedly apprehended Sparfven 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.
State Police Superintendent Col. Steven G. O'Donnell said Owens did not follow Providence police policies for identifying himself as an officer at the scene.
"It's unfortunate he was injured. It was a dynamic scene, but he has some responsibility for what transpired in that backyard," he said, per the Providence Journal.