HAMDEN, Connecticut -- A Hamden police officer is facing charges for his role in the shooting and wounding of a woman who was a passenger in a car stopped in New Haven in April.
Hamden Officer Devin Eaton, 29, was arrested on a warrant charging him with first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment in connection with the shooting on Argyle Street. Eaton and Yale police Officer Terrance Pollock reportedly fired upon the car after the driver exited the car following the stop.
Eaton fired 13 shots in the direction of the Honda Civic driven by Paul Witherspoon, 21, the arrest warrant said.
Police had stopped the car while investigating a report of an armed robbery in Hamden. Neither Witherspoon nor passenger Stephanie Washington, 22, had a firearm at the time and police never found a weapon, the warrant said.
The person who had reported the armed robbery later admitted he had not seen a weapon.
Eaton pulled up along the driver side of the Honda, stopped his cruiser and drew his gun, the warrant said. Then Witherspoon started to get out of the car with his hands raised and Eaton started firing, according to the warrant.
Witherspoon was not shot in the April 16 incident but Washingtonwas wounded. She had a gunshot wound in her upper thigh and glute area, which fractured her pelvis and spine, the warrant said. At Yale New Haven Hospital, Washington needed abdominal surgery for her serious injuries, according the warrant.
A gunshot also grazed Pollock’s right calf as a result of friendly fire.
Eaton is free on $100,000 bail and is to appear in court in New Haven Oct. 28, the release said.
The warrant came more than six months after the incident.
The charges brought against Eaton clear the way for Hamden’s Ethics and Integrity Unit to complete an internal investigation, Acting Police Chief John Cappiello said in a statement.
“The Ethics and Integrity Unit will continue to use the services of independent consultant Jeffrey Noble while it completes the internal affairs report,” Cappeillo said. “It will then be the responsibility of the Chief of Police to make a recommendation to the Police Commission concerning what action to take concerning Officer Eaton.”
Eaton has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, but the felony charge changes that to unpaid leave, per the town’s collective bargaining agreement, Cappiello said.
When the department concludes its investigation, Cappiello will make a recommendation based on the outcome to present to the police commission, which can decide whether to remove Eaton, impose other discipline, or no discipline.
The deadline for issuing a departmental complaint against Eaton will be approximately 30 days from Monday, Cappeillo said.
Mayor Curt B. Leng held a press conference Monday afternoon to address the news with Cappiello and Legislative Council President Michael McGarry.
“The victims and their family remain in my mind and heart as we work to prevent anything like this from happening in the future,” Leng said.
Leng said the report and evidence can now be included in the ongoing internal investigation.
“In order for the process to maintain its integrity and ultimate outcomes, and that’s the important part to remember, the legal process needs to be followed carefully and responsibly,” Leng said.
Leng and Cappiello didn’t take questions before leaving to shouts of “fire the officer.”
Pollock was not charged in the incident. Yale University Police Chief Ronald Higgins said Pollock will remain on administrative duty.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
According to the warrant, Pollock fired three shots in total toward the car after he exited his cruiser. Investigators determined a round that went through the windshield hit the inside of the car, but not Washington.
Pollock told investigators he thought Eaton and the car’s driver were exchanging gunfire and heard a bullet hitting his cruiser. He said he thought the driver was shooting at Eaton and himself and got out to immediately to return fire and get to a safer location, the warrant said.
He fired his weapon twice in the direction of the Honda and a third time as he retreated across Dixwell Avenue, according to the warrant. Pollock left his car in drive as he got out so it rolled forward and hit the Honda.
Eleven bullets hit the Honda Civic, eight of which were to the passenger-side door, the warrant said. One of Eaton’s bullets also hit Pollock’s cruiser’s bumper, another the cruiser’s rear car frame and a third hit the front license plate of an unoccupied car parked on Argyle Street.
Witherspoon told investigators the day of the incident he had pulled out of a driveway on Argyle Street going toward Dixwell Avenue when he saw two police cars coming toward him. He said he didn’t know why they were approaching him but never tried to run, stopping his car.
Witherspoon said he didn’t think the incident at the gas station was related because it was a dispute, as he described it, the warrant said. Eaton told Witherspoon to get out of the car and make his hands visible, according to Witherspoon’s interview.
Witherspoon said he opened his door because the window crank in the vehicle was broken. Police later found the window crank in the Honda glovebox, according to the warrant.
In Eaton’s interview, he told investigators that when the vehicle stopped he thought the driver was either going to try to engage him in a pursuit, get out to run or shoot him.
When he confirmed the car’s license plate was the same as the one reported in the alleged robbery, Eaton said he immediately got out of his car so he could keep a visual on Witherspoon to control the situation and ensure Witherspoon wasn’t going to shoot him, according to the warrant.
Eaton said he could see Witherspoon wasn’t holding anything in his left hand but as Witherspoon turned toward him raising his right hand, he thought Witherspoon had a gun, according to the warrant.
Eaton told investigators he thought he was alone and had not radioed for backup when he asked Witherspoon to get out of the car. Eaton said he thought the driver was going to shoot him because of “his close proximity to me and aggressive actions when exiting his vehicle,” the warrant said.
Eaton moved around the back of the Honda and heard another gunshot he thought had come from the driver. Investigators determined Eaton didn’t activate his body camera until after the shooting occurred.
New Haven clergy addressed the incident outside Superior Court on Church Street Monday morning after meeting with New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin and the police chiefs of Hamden, Yale and New Haven.
The Rev. Boise Kimber said people probably will never be satisfied with the charges, but they are based on the law.
“There are still many ways in which justice has not been served in this case, and there are still many ways it can go wrong,” David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said in a statement. “The ACLU of Connecticut will be watching this case closely.”
The Rev. Scott Lewis said more important than the charges was moving forward and making sure a similar incident doesn’t happen again by holding the Police Department accountable to engaging with the community.
“Thank God there were no lives lost but we can’t say that about incidents around the country,” he said.
“Regardless of the outcome of this one case, true police accountability still does not exist in Connecticut,” McGuire said. “Police accountability will not exist until every level of government works to prevent police violence and to hold police employees responsible each time they hurt or kill someone, not just in cases when hundreds of people have taken to the streets in protest.”
Cappiello, Deputy Chief Bo Kicak and New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes left the courthouse before the press conference.
Legislative Council President Michael McGarry addressed the charges during Monday evening’s council meeting
“The Legislative Council has no role in either the criminal or disciplinary process,” he said. “My colleagues and I need to remain circumspect as these processes move forward. We need to respect the carefully circumscribed roles of the police chief and Police Commission in the disciplinary process that will determine what actions, if any, will be taken.”
“This council remains steadfast in that mutual goal and desire and will do all we can facilitate this critical public dialogue and action,” McGarry said.
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