The Providence External Review Authority had only one item on its agenda Monday night: whether to fire Batista for his decision to publish videos of an alleged assault by Providence Police sergeant Joseph Hanley, in defiance of a previous decision by the board. 

Over 240 people watched the live-stream of the meeting on Youtube, and 21 spoke before board chair Nicholas Figueroa ended the public comment period with another dozen waiting to speak. Almost all voiced full support of Batista’s decision to release the videos.

The problem here is not executive director Batista’s actions of releasing the footage. We all know that the problem is police brutality that has taken place,” Angel Lopez commented. “And a problem can’t be solved by putting it in a drawer and locking it up. That’s called denial. Showing the video is facing the problem.”

Some members of the public chastised the board for voting not to publish the videos, and called on board members to resign. 

But PERA obtained the videos through a subpoena, and board member Michael Fontaine argued that the organization’s bylaws forbid releasing confidential information. 

“This isn’t a matter of trying to keep something from someone,” said Fontaine, who is a former prosecutor. “It’s doing our particular job as we are tasked to do it, and to be able to -- with clean hands -- hold someone else accountable for not doing it."

He added, “The ramifications of not following the rules that were put in place for us is that this board will be disbanded.”

Six of the board’s nine members voted to fire Batista, who was not given a chance to speak before the vote.

Several community members who testified pledged to protest that decision, which they said would undermine community trust in PERA. But Tiara Mack, who was recently elected to the State Senate from Providence, said the blame was misplaced. 

“We are vilifying a board of people who were following what was legal. I’m not saying it is right, but they were following what is legal. And it did get in the way of what is just," Mack said. "But we need to put that blame back on the Providence Police department that made it impossible for the board to release the video because it was subpoenaed information.”

The board will begin the process of hiring a new executive director at its next meeting. 

Batista was first hired by the board in January of 2019, a year after PERA was revived by the passage of the Providence Community-Police Relations Act. The report on the police department’s handling of the  alleged assault by Sgt. Hanley was the first significant oversight action that PERA took under his leadership. 

PERA still has not completed a single investigation into a public complaint of police misconduct. After the vote to fire Batista, board member Kimberly Dy asked what would happen to those open investigations. Chair Nicholas Figueroa said the board would have to revisit that question at a later meeting.