Providence man sentenced to serve 37 years in state prison for possessing illegal gun and eluding police

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a Providence man was sentenced in Providence County Superior Court to serve 37 years at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) after pleading to possessing an illegal handgun and leading police on a vehicle chase through Pawtucket and Providence in 2020.


Justin Denson (age 38) entered a plea of nolo contendere on November 8, 2021, to possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, carrying a pistol without a license, and eluding a law enforcement officer.


The Court initially stayed imposition of the defendant’s sentence until January 20, 2022. During the time between the defendant’s plea and his scheduled sentencing date, the defendant was arrested again and charged by the Providence and Pawtucket Police Departments for allegedly committing additional felony gun offenses in two separate cases.


At a hearing yesterday before Superior Court Justice Kristin E. Rodgers, the Court sentenced the defendant to 45 years at the ACI with 37 years to serve, and the balance of the sentence suspended with probation.


“There are some cases in particular that demonstrate the danger posed by armed criminals to the public and law enforcement alike. This is one of those cases. The defendant, a career criminal, has repeatedly endangered the lives of others. Plainly, no previous sentence or existing charge could change his criminal behavior,” said Attorney General Neronha.  “Removing him from our streets and neighborhoods – and for a very long time – is the only way to keep Rhode Islanders safe. The day of full accountability has arrived, and deservedly so. I am grateful to the Pawtucket Police Department for their strong work, particularly during the challenging circumstances of the arrest, and during the overall investigation of this case.”


Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that during the early morning hours of August 31, 2020, the defendant led a Pawtucket Police officer on a vehicle chase through Pawtucket and into Providence, culminating in officers seizing an illegal handgun from his vehicle.


At approximately 3:30 a.m. that morning, an officer pulled the defendant over traveling south on Interstate 95 after observing the defendant drive through two stop signs without stopping and speeding before entering the highway. After the officer stopped the defendant in his Toyota Camry in the breakdown lane of I-95 south, the defendant drove off in an attempt to elude the officers.


The officer attempted to pursue the defendant, but lost sight of his vehicle while traveling south on I-95. Just prior to ending his pursuit, the officer observed that the defendant’s vehicle had crashed into a guardrail and temporary barriers on the Branch Avenue overpass.


The officer then pulled his cruiser near the defendant’s vehicle, exited, and ordered that the defendant show his hands. The defendant ignored the officer’s commands and attempted to drive away in his vehicle but was unable to due to the damage the vehicle sustained in the crash.


After several moments reaching around in the area of the floor of the front passenger seat, the defendant exited his vehicle with his hands raised, but then turned around and jumped back into his vehicle. Following the arrival of additional officers on scene, the defendant exited his vehicle and was arrested by officers from the Pawtucket Police Department.


Officers seized a Heckler & Koch .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun from the defendant’s vehicle loaded with 12 live rounds, plus one live round in the chamber.


Under Rhode Island law, individuals convicted of crimes of violence are prohibited from possessing firearms. The defendant was previously convicted of felony assault and carrying a pistol without a license in 2010.


The additional felony cases against the defendant remain pending in Providence County Superior Court.


Officer Nicholas Croft and Detective Sergeant Dino Giorgio of the Pawtucket Police Department and Special Assistant Attorney General Alison Bittl of the Office of the Attorney General led the investigation and prosecution of the case.