By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
A woman claims she was violently assaulted by then-Canaan Police Officer Samuel Provenza when she tried to video record an aggressive traffic stop.
Crystal and Douglas Wright are now suing Provenza and the Canaan Police Department, as well as the town. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court in Concord last week, states Crystal Wright still suffers pain from the ruptured ACL knee injury she sustained during the assault.
“During the stop, tensions escalated when Mrs. Wright questioned why Officer Samuel Provenza was so close to her face that she could feel his breath on her skin. Then, when Officer Provenza realized that Mrs. Wright intended to record his conduct on her cell phone, the stop then escalated into an arrest with excessive force,” their lawsuit states.
The Wrights are being represented by attorneys Samantha Heuring and Charles Douglas with the Concord firm Douglas, Leonard and Garvey P.C.
“Plain and simple, this case is about a woman who was subjected to unnecessary, excessive brute force by a male officer two to three times her size,” Heuring said in a statement.
When Provenza pulled Wright over on Nov. 30 of 2017, Crystal Wright knew Provenza, and knew about his reputation, the lawsuit states.
“Mrs. Wright had heard about his history of and reputation for using violence while carrying out his law enforcement duties. In fact, Mrs. Wright heard that Officer Provenza frequently drew his gun and taser on people he came into contact with. Mrs. Wright had also heard that Officer Provenza had engaged in a pattern of roughly handling women, including pulling their hair,” the lawsuit states.
Wright and her family had issues with a school bus driver and after hearing her daughter had another problem, Crystal Wright was following the bus when she was stopped by Provenza, according to the lawsuit.
During the stop, Provenza put his head into Crystal Wright’s car and was acting aggressively, according to the lawsuit. Crystal Wright is a sexual abuse survivor, according to the lawsuit, and she was uncomfortable with Provenza’s behavior. She picked up her iPhone and started recording when she heard a “ruckus,” the lawsuit states.
“It was Officer Provenza grabbing onto the door and ripping on it in an attempt to open it. His eyes were bulging out of his head, his veins were popping out of his neck, and he was visibly enraged,” the lawsuit states.
Provenza then allegedly grabbed the 5-foot, two-inch, 115-pound woman by her ponytail and dragged her out of her car as she was screaming and begging for someone to help, according to the lawsuit. He handcuffed her and hit her in the knee, despite the fact she was not resisting, according to the lawsuit. That blow to the knee tore her ACL, according to the lawsuit. Though Provenza’s police cruise was equipped with a dashboard camera, that camera was not turned on during her stop, according to the lawsuit.
Crystal Wright was eventually charged with resisting arrest for the incident, but was later found not guilty, according to the lawsuit.
Provenza, who went on to become a state trooper, did not respond to a request for comment. Canaan Police Chief Sam Frank said Thursday he was not able to comment. Canaan Town Administrator declined to discuss the case when reached Thursday.
“It’s litigation so it’s in the hands of our attorney, I’ll let them defend us in court,” Mike Samson said.
The lawsuit claims that the town and the police department knew about Provenza’s violence and that he was never properly disciplined. ACLU-NH is currently suing the town in order to get a copy of the outside consultant’s report on the matter.
Provenza was present with New Hampshire State Police Trooper Christopher O’Toole when O’Toole shot and killed Jesse Champney in December of 2017. The shooting was deemed justified, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s report.