A veteran police captain in Rhode Island shown on video smashing a handcuffed man's face into the pavement over the July 4 weekend was charged with simple assault Thursday.
Providence Police Capt. Stephen Gencarella pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in Sixth District Court in Providence.
His attorney, Michael Colucci, said outside the courthouse that the 25-year department veteran used force because he believed the suspect was reaching for a weapon. He said officers later found the man had a knife stowed in a gun holster on his waist.
"Police officers are authorized to use reasonable force options, available to them in the moment, to address threats as they arise during a struggle," Colucci said.
Gencarella remains on paid injured-on-duty status with a salary of more than $100,000, though Police Chief Hugh Clements Jr. has recommended he be fired.
The department previously determined he violated at least six agency policies during the July 3 incident.
Police say Gencarella and another officer, Lt. Matthew Jennette, arrested a 21-year-old man for leaving his parked vehicle unattended in a travel lane near the city's India Point Park following a holiday fireworks celebration.
The department says the officers struck the man in the head, handcuffed him and took him to the ground after he resisted arrest.
Video of the incident filmed by a bystander then shows Gencarella grabbing the man's head while he is lying face down and smashing it into the road.
Jennette remains on active duty and his actions are still under review, police officials have said.