'End of Watch' ride stops at RI prison, honoring fallen CO
Lt. Russell Freeman died in December from complications of COVID-19
By Tom Mooney
The Providence Journal
CRANSTON, R.I. — The six motorcycle escorts from Washington state rumbled into the prison parking lot on schedule Thursday morning, followed by a 41-foot, black and blue paneled trailer. The words "Beyond the call of duty — Ride to Remember" stretched the length of one side.
Below the words and covering the entire trailer were photographs of 339 law enforcement officers who died last year in the United States.
Halfway down on the right side, just at heart level, hung the portrait of Lt. Russell Freeman, dressed in his gray corrections officer uniform and cap.
Thirty years to the day Thursday, Russ Freeman began his career at the Adult Correctional Institutions. But in December, at age 52, he died of COVID — one week before prison staff and inmates began receiving vaccinations.
As the rolling tribute trailer came to a stop outside maximum security, about 100 of Freeman's assembled colleagues began to applaud. So, too, did his widow, Lisa Favino-Freeman, and their three grown children.
The "End of Watch Ride" began May 28 in Yakima, Washington, and has now made stops in 44 states to honor the lives of fallen law enforcement officers and keep their memories alive.
The ride's founder, Jagrut Shah, dismounted from his motorcycle, hugged Favino-Freeman, whom he had been speaking with by phone in recent days, and offered her a few quiet words of condolence.
Then he escorted her and her children to the trailer to see the place where Freeman's picture hung.
"What they're doing is unbelievable," Favino-Freeman said. "It makes me feel so proud that he's with 338 men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice. They are keeping his memory and all the others alive."
This is the second annual "End of Watch Ride" that Shah, a retired deputy sheriff, has organized. Last year the ride honored 146 fallen officers.
"When I retired from my department in 2017, I'd seen a few line-of-duty deaths and it just weighed heavy on me," Shah said. "I started doing these stops locally and then I decided I wanted to do it nationally."
"That should say it all," he said, gesturing toward the Freemans as they touched the portrait of lost husband and father. "That should say it all."
"I allow them a piece of my heart and I try to take a little bit of the pain away."
Before Shah's arrival, Favino-Freeman said "This pandemic is the worst type of death you can go through."
Freeman led the prison staff inside the ACI's women's facility. He became infected with the coronavirus in November — as did his wife, who is also a corrections officer at the ACI. But while she recovered, Russ fell severely ill.
He was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator, then spent weeks isolated away from his family before he died.
"We are so proud of him," she said. "And this makes me feel so honored to know that people are doing this to remember my husband."
A week after Freeman's death, prison officials began offering vaccinations to staff and inmates.
As on Monday 69.7% of staff had been fully vaccinated compared with 58.8% of all inmates, a prison official said.
Shah said that Thursday marked the 63rd day of what will likely be an 83-day, 22,000-mile journey, financed by a few sponsors.
Because of the national debate over police use of force, there are times "we do run into people who do not like what we do," said Shah. "We don't have a welcoming committee sometimes. People tend to forget what these sheepdogs do," he said, using law enforcement parlance for protector.
Shah huddled the Freeman family together. In a brief moment of prayer beside the trailer he slipped into the hand of each, a St. Michael's medallion, the patron saint of police officers.