Cop Charged For Shooting Passenger After Stopping Alleged Armed Robbery Suspects
Hartford, CT – A police officer who initiated a traffic stop to investigate an armed robbery and then shot one of the occupants has been charged with assault and reckless endangerment (video below).
Connecticut State's Attorney Patrick Griffin released an investigation report on Monday that said Hamden Police Officer Devin Eaton had showed "an extreme indifference to human life" and that his use-of-force in April was not justified, NBC News reported.
“I respect the decision of the state’s attorney to prosecute Officer Eaton on these three very serious charges,” Hamden Mayor Curt Balzano Leng told reporters at a press conference on Oct. 21.
“The investigation was thorough and carefully weighed significant evidence before arriving at the conclusions that they did,” Leng said.
Officer Eaton’s attorney, Gregory Cerritelli, warned of the chilling effect such charges could have on other police officers, NBC News reported.
"Police officers are called upon to make split-second decisions and exercise their judgment and discretion," Cerritelli said. "It's a sad day for the law enforcement community because the message officer Eaton's arrest sends is that they need to be 100 percent right 100 percent of the time."
The incident in question occurred at about 4:16 a.m. on April 16 after Hamden police responded to an armed robbery at the Gas and Go on Arch Street, the New Haven Register reported.
Hamden Police Officer Devin Eaton, a three-year veteran of the police force, called for assistance and received backup from nearby Yale University Police Officer Terrance Pollack.
Shortly thereafter, the officers identified what they believed to be the suspect vehicle at Argyle Street and Dixwell Avenue in New Haven, the New Haven Register reported.
Connecticut State Police Trooper Josue Delorus told reporters at a press conference that the driver of the suspect vehicle failed to comply with instructions to exit the vehicle with his hands up, and instead “exited the vehicle in an abrupt manner.”
Surveillance video from the scene showed Officer Eaton stopping his police car just past the suspect vehicle and getting out with his weapon drawn.
He quickly dashed behind the suspect vehicle as if to take cover and then opened fire on the passenger’s side of the vehicle, the video showed.
In the video, Officer Eaton continued firing as he ran further away from the suspect vehicle.
The driver – later identified as 21-year-old Paul Witherspoon – cannot be seen in the surveillance video.
A second surveillance video showed Officer Pollack pulling up near the front of the suspect vehicle.
In the video, Officer Pollack jumped out of his police SUV with his weapon drawn and began shooting in the direction of the vehicle a second later.
The officer jumped out so fast, he failed to put his vehicle in park and the SUV continued rolling until it hit the suspect vehicle.
Investigators later determined that Officer Eaton had fired 13 shots and Officer Pollack had fired three, NBC News reported.
Witherspoon was not injured during the incident, but his 22-year-old girlfriend, Stephanie Washington, was wounded by gunfire, the New Haven Register reported.
Washington was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Police said she remains hospitalized in stable condition, according to WTNH.
Officer Pollack, a 16-year veteran of the Yale police, was wounded during the incident, WTNH reported.
He was grazed by a bullet fired by Officer Eaton, NBC News reported.
The state’s attorney said that Officer Pollack’s use-of-force had been ruled justified because he believe Officer Eaton and Witherspoon were engaged in a shootout when he began shooting.
Officer Pollack remains on leave awaiting completion of an internal affairs investigation by his own department, according to NBC News.
No weapons were found in the suspect vehicle, according to the New Haven Register.
However, it was later determined that Witherspoon’s vehicle was actually the suspect vehicle reported by the gas station as having attempted an armed robbery just minutes before the encounter with the officers, NBC News reported.
Surveillance video from the gas station showed Witherspoon arguing with another man but it does not show a robbery taking place, contrary to the report given to 911.
The gas station clerk later told police that he had not seen a gun despite reporting an armed robbery, NBC News reported.
Officer Eaton’s attorney has said that his client didn’t know that Officer Pollack had joined the gun battle and believed Officer Pollack’s gunshots were from Witherspoon shooting at him.
The officer is facing one count of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, NBC News reported.
He was released on $100,000 bail and is due back in court on Oct. 28.
After Officer Eaton was arrested, Hamden officials said that all of the paid administrative leave he has taken since the shooting seven months ago will be changed to unpaid leave, NBC News reported.
Watch surveillance and bodycam videos of the incident below: