WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — State police arrested 50 people and seized 53 illegal guns and large quantities of drugs Wednesday morning in what Col. Ann Assumpico believes to be the single largest takedown in Rhode Island State Police history.
State police said the arrests were made during a “coordinated series of pre-dawn raids” conducted by state police, with assistance from more than 150 state, federal, and local law enforcement officers.
Assumpico said the raids were the result of a year-long investigation called Operation Patched Out, which focused on motorcycle gangs operating in northwestern Rhode Island.
She said the raids involved the use of explosive devices to breach heavily fortified buildings; an armored truck and a battering ram to break down doors; and dozens of heavily armed SWAT team members and other officers.
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Police said the investigation began last May after detectives received information some of the most violent motorcycle gangs in the country were setting up local chapters in northwestern Rhode Island – particularly in Woonsocket, North Smithfield, and Burrillville.
“These gang members are not recreational bikers organizing local charities. These are violent criminals who belong to some of the most sinister motorcycle games in this country,” Assumpico said. “Today’s arrests send a clear and convincing message – we will not allow motorcycle gangs and other criminals to sell guns and drugs on our streets and commit violent crimes in our communities.”
Governor Gina Raimondo released a statement on the arrests and raid:
“Rhode Island is safer today because of the incredible work of the Rhode Island State Police and their federal and local law enforcement partners. I applaud Colonel Assumpico, Lt. Colonel Philbin and Attorney General Kilmartin’s leadership to execute an investigation and raid that led to approximately 50 arrests, the seizure of more than 50 firearms–including illegal, military-style assault weapons–and the seizure of narcotics.”
Police said their investigation zeroed in on two gangs – The Pagans and Kryptmen which, according to Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin, have a history of violent criminal activity including murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and large-scale drug trafficking.
According to a release from State Police, several rival gangs were competing for turf in Rhode Island, “resulting in increasingly violent confrontations – including three shootings that were never reported to law enforcement.”
Because of the growing tensions, Philbin said the decision was made to execute the search and arrest warrants.
Police said they obtained the warrants with evidence detailed in a 1,300-page affidavit, including thousands of phone conversations and text messages.
Wednesday morning’s raids took place in several communities, including Woonsocket.
A man living on High Street said he woke up in the early morning hours Wednesday to Drug Enforcement Agency officers in his yard.
A short time later, he told Eyewitness News the agents broke down a glass door to conduct a raid.
It was one of several raids in Woonsocket reported overnight by eyewitnesses.
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Around the corner from High Street, neighbors witnessed another raid in which officers were in tactical gear with guns drawn.
Several neighbors told Eyewitness News they saw one person being taken into custody.
A short distance away from there on the corner of Second Avenue and Chestnut Street, an eyewitness reported hearing gunshots and then saw a large police presence with officers again in tactical gear.
The woman said her husband was going to go outside, but police told him to go back inside.
She said the police were blocking off some side streets.
John Patenaude said he wasn’t surprised something like this happened in the neighborhood.
“I kind of expected it on this street,” he said. “This street’s hot.”
Patenaude said he was woken up by the raids early Wednesday morning.
“I came outside to see what it was and they had people on the ground, holding their guns and what not,” he said. “Four hours later, I heard more screaming, I came out on my porch and this house was getting raided over here.”
Police said that several of the people arrested in the raid will appear in Superior Court on Thursday.