Police Department comes to the aid of one of its own

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 5:30pm
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It was almost one year ago to the day that the life of New Shoreham Police Officer Chris Rich changed.

It has changed so dramatically, in fact, that Police Chief Vin Carlone and the members of the New Shoreham Police Department are holding a fundraising event to support Rich and his family since he suffered a debilitating hand injury that has prevented his return to active duty. That event will happen on Sunday, Oct. 6 at The Spring House from 12 to 5 p.m.

It was just minutes before midnight on Sept. 18, 2018, that Rich and Sgt. Joe DeMatteo responded to a call at the Overlook housing unit located off West Side Road.

Rich’s own police report picks up the narrative: “As I approached, the scene appeared calm and when I was close enough I made eye contact with the Sgt., pointed at the male in underwear, who had his back to me, and mouthed without speaking, “Is this the guy?” The Sgt. nodded a positive acknowledgement and just at that moment the suspect acted out screaming uncontrollably and incoherently, making fists with his hands and shaking them at his side.”

A fight ensued between the suspect and his roommate, but after the roommates were separated, the suspect, identified as Jacques Theron, appeared to calm down again.

“As I approached Theron, a switch turned in him and he was on me. He grabbed me with both hands out forward, touching my duty belt. He was seated. I was standing, and he quickly stood up banging chest to chest with me… I put my hands on him trying to push him off me, but his skin was hot to the touch and soaked with sweat. My right hand slid off him and into a frameless glass mirror that was just leaning against the wall next to the bed. I heard the crash and saw my blood pouring out of a cut in my hand. The next thing I know, the Sgt., myself and Theron are on the floor. My right arm went numb in seconds and I couldn’t use it.”

Rich, a seven-year veteran of the island police force, had cut the tendons in his right hand, resulting in at least one surgery and ongoing rehab. He has not returned to work since.

“Whether he can return to work is still unknown,” said Carlone.

The inability to use one hand as a police officer is a major handicap, said Carlone.

“You have to be physically capable of engaging in a fight, a potential fight for your life or the public’s life. That hand has to be fully operational,” he said.

Carlone said when he arrived at the scene of the fight, “there was so much blood it looked like a murder scene.”

The assailant was now on the floor and Carlone sees that Officer Rich is still “bleeding profusely. He had wrapped his hand in a tee shirt but the blood was coming through.”

Rich was taken to the Medical Center where the bleeding was stopped. But Rich was also told he was going to have to go off-island for the necessary surgery. Carlone said he may yet need more surgery.

“It’s very upsetting to us that he’s not part of the team right now. He is in our hearts, but he’s not physically here,” said Carlone. “He’s not happy missing a summer of work when he knows how short-handed we are.”

He described Rich as a “very pleasant, soft-spoken, humorous guy.” He’s also a bandmate of Carlone’s, playing in their band, Fugitives From Justice. (The injury has also impacted Rich’s ability to play the guitar., said Carlone.)

“He’s a really good guy. He works hard. He cares about his job and he’s dedicated to the community and the department,” said Lt. Paul Deane.

“The Block Island community has always been supportive of its public safety and I hope the community can come out to support this officer,” said Carlone.

Tickets to the event are $30 and can be purchased at the Dispatch office at the New Shoreham Police Department. The department is also accepting separate donations on behalf of the Rich family. Donations made out to Chris Rich can be sent to the New Shoreham Police Department, Box 307, Block Island, R.I. 02807