One year after North Providence police severely injured Alexandra Svoboda during a demonstration, she awaits a fifth knee surgery and a trial for resisting arrest.
Svoboda, who lives in Providence’s West End, was hurt August 11, 2007, when North Providence police arrested her after ordering about 40 marchers to move from Mineral Spring Avenue to the sidewalk.
The protest, led by the International Workers of the World (IWW), targeted Jackie’s Galaxy restaurant for doing business with a New York supplier accused of underpaying its warehouse workers. Another protestor, Jason Friedmutter of Providence, was also arrested.
The North Providence police actions prompted a second demonstration that drew 200 people, raising questions about whether that would mark an apex for the local IWW faction (see “Can the Wobblies deliver?” News, August 29, 2007). So far, no officer has been disciplined for what Providence IWW delegate Jason Tompkins calls “the attack.”
Although he says Svoboda’s injury was “unfortunate,” Richard Fossa, chief of staff to North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, says, “The police officers weren’t found to be doing anything they don’t usually do,” and he confirms, “No one was reprimanded in any way.”
Svoboda declined comment, due to her pending trial. Tompkins, however, blames the incident on what he calls police inexperience. All demonstrators did not immediately leave the street when ordered, he concedes, but at the time of the scuffle with Svoboda, most were on the sidewalk. “Without that training to keep a level head,” Tompkins says, “[the police] didn’t know what to do.”
Attorney General Patrick Lynch plans to investigate the incident, but he has to wait until after Svoboda’s trial, explains Alan Goulart, chief of the AG’s criminal division. To receive a jury trial, Svoboda waived her case into Superior Court, where prosecutions are handled by the AG, not the North Providence town solicitor.
That created a conflict of interest for the AG’s office, says Goulart. To solve the problem, Lynch will soon hire an outside lawyer. Then, when the trial is finished, the AG will interview Svoboda about police actions dur-ing her arrest. “We can’t complete our investigation until we talk with Svoboda,” Goulart says.
The case is scheduled for an August 28 pre-trial conference. Svoboda’s lawyer, Robert Mann, says he has no complaints about the long delay, since his client’s arrest for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and simple assault. “It’s a complicated case,” he says. “It requires a lot of work.”
Tompkins says the case has diverted the attention of the IWW’s 30-member Providence branch from labor organizing. Instead, the group has focused its efforts on publicizing the case and holding benefits to pay Svoboda’s legal and living expenses.
Immediately after the injury, Svoboda says, she spent two weeks in the hospital and had four surgeries. For the next six months, she walked with crutches, and she still walks with a cane, wears a knee brace, and attends twice-weekly physical therapy, she says. She cannot work or resume classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, Svoboda adds, because she has two more knee surgeries scheduled this fall.
On August 10, the IWW will hold an anniversary event at Olneyville’s Donigan Park with music, food, and speakers to publicize Svoboda’s case and to celebrate her partial recovery.