New Britain, CT – The State’s Attorney’s Office has concluded that five New Britain police officers were justified when they used deadly force during an encounter with a carload of armed suspects in 2017 (video below).
The driver, 20-year-old Zoe “Gangstalicious” Dowdell, was fatally shot by the officers after he crashed into multiple patrol vehicles and nearly slammed into several officers in his attempt to escape.
Two passengers, 18-year-old Noah Young and 15-year-old Caleb Tisdol, were also found in possession of drugs when they were arrested.
The incident occurred on Dec. 14, 2017, when several New Britain police officers began following a Toyota Paseo.
The vehicle had recently been “involved in numerous violent crimes” in the area, State’s Attorney John Smriga wrote in the investigative report, which was released on Jan. 3.
According to the Division of Criminal Justice, those “violent crimes” included instances of people being carjacked at gunpoint, a woman being “groped and subjected to degrading comments about her body,” and a victim being pistol-whipped, WFSB reported.
The vehicle’s plate also specifically matched that of a car associated with an armed carjacking attempt just days before, the report read.
“Based on their knowledge of a previous carjacking attempt only days prior, involving the same vehicle, during which shots were fired at the intended victim, it was reasonable for investigating officers to conclude that there was a substantial probability that the occupants of the vehicle were armed and represented a significant threat to the community,” Smriga wrote.
The officers waited until Dowdell drove onto a “relatively narrow residential street,” then attempted to pull him over.
Dowdell momentarily stopped his car, at which point an unmarked police vehicle bumped into it from behind to block it in.
“The Toyota then accelerated in reverse, colliding with the police vehicle,” the report read. “Coinciding with this collision, the suspect vehicle skidded out of control and struck a second police vehicle, before spinning around and becoming stuck on an embankment.”
Police swarmed the Toyota with their weapons drawn and began yelling commands at the three suspects, the video showed.
Dowdell ignored their orders, and accelerated down a sidewalk towards them.
“It is at this point several officers can be seen and heard discharging their weapons at the vehicle,” the State’s Attorney’s report read.
“The vehicle did, in fact, manage to maneuver past the police cordon before crashing into a parked pickup truck,” Smriga continued. “A total of 28 shots were fired within a span of approximately 10 seconds while the car maneuvered to escape the police barricade.”
Five officers discharged their weapons during the encounter, and the Toyota was hit by 13 bullets.
Another round impacted an uninvolved vehicle nearby, and 14 rounds were unaccounted for, according to the report.
Even after the Toyota came to a stop, Tisdol and Young continued their attempts to get away.
Tisdol “was kicking at the windshield,” and Young “attempted to crawl out the rear window,” the report read.
Dowdell had been shot in both thighs, as well as in his head and neck. Another bullet grazed his left hand.
He was transported to St. Francis Hospital, were he died later that evening.
Tisdol, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, sustained non-life threatening gunshot wounds to his lower left leg and upper right leg.
Young was transported to New Britain General Hospital with minor lacerations and graze wounds, WTIC reported.
Investigators located a loaded .45-caliber handgun and an unloaded .25-caliber handgun on the floorboard of Dowdell’s seat, according to the investigative report.
Tisdol was carrying ammunition at the time of his arrest, and both he and Young were found in possession of narcotics.
Young, who was also wanted for allegedly pointing a gun at his ex-girlfriend during an argument, told investigators that he was “asleep in the backseat of the car” when the altercation occurred, according to the report.
He also wanted to know what right the officers had to follow them down a “Do Not Enter” street, police said.
Young and Tisdol are both sitting in jail, awaiting their next court hearings, WFSB reported.
The State’s Attorney’s Office concluded that the “use of deadly physical force” demonstrated by each of the five officers who discharged their weapons during the encounter was justified, and that the Division of Criminal Justice would not be taking any further action.
But the family of Dowdell, an aspiring rapper, disagreed with Smriga’s findings, and argued that the officers should never have opened fire because no one shot at them from inside the Toyota, WFSB reported.
"It's like shooting fish in a barrel. I don't know what could justify that kind of firepower," family spokesperson Cornell Lewis told the news outlet. “There were no shots from the car at the police officers. The car got kind of close to the police officers, I saw that, but there were a lot of bullets fired into that car.”
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Legal Director Dan Barrett agreed with Lewis, and said that police should “consider if it’s appropriate” to “shoot into a moving car,” WFSB reported.
“The Fairfield State’s Attorney’s report is not a ruling from a court and has no bearing on whether it should be tolerable in Connecticut for police to summarily execute a young man on the street,” Barrett told WTIC.
He alleged that prosecutors have not released all the evidence regarding “what happened to Zoe Dowdell,” and said the ACLU’s legal case into the matter will continue.
“[Dowdell] ain’t have nothing to do with those past crimes or nothing,” his friend, Sadiki Blake, told WFSB shortly after his death. “Oblivious to the fact that anything was even going on, he got caught in it.”
The rash of violent armed carjackings in the area ceased immediately after the incident, WFSB reported.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said that the city will now open an administrative investigation into the officer-involved shooting “to determine whether any of our city policies were violated."
New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said that the involved officers will remain on restricted duty until he has an opportunity to fully review the report, WVIT reported.
You can watch dashcam footage of the officers’ encounter with the armed suspects in the video below: