Lawyer for driver in shooting involving Hamden, Yale police says officers fired without warning
The lawyer for the driver whose car was fired upon by Hamden and Yale officers last week is waiting for police dashcam and body camera footage to complete the picture, but he said Monday it looks like police opened fire without provocation.
Attorney Mike Dolan said his own investigation suggests that this “this was truly a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ situation."
Dolan represents Paul Witherspoon III, 21, of Hamden. Stephanie Washington, 22, Witherspoon’s girlfriend and a passenger in the car, was shot and wounded.
A state police official has told The Courant there appears to be no sign Witherspoon had a gun. A preliminary search of the car did not reveal a firearm.
“There was no provocation at any time on his part," Dolan said . "Before he had a chance to comply [with any police orders] they opened fire.”
Witherspoon’s first reaction, said Dolan, “was to lean over in the seat and attempt to shield Stephanie from bullets.”
Washington sustained wounds that were described as not life-threatening and was hospitalized.
A preliminary search of the car did not reveal a firearm. New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin said a search warrant to further examine the interior of the car was signed Monday.
“In the search warrant, State Police Major Crime detectives attest that a search and examination of the vehicle will aid in the discovery of evidence that will further assist their ongoing investigation," the state Division of Criminal Justice said in a written statement. "State’s Attorney Griffin has additionally authorized the release of body camera footage, which will be available this week.”
James Rovella, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said state police plan to release video from the incident Tuesday or Wednesday.
“This week, probably tomorrow or at the latest Wednesday, you’ll see some unheralded transparency for the Connecticut State Police and myself to bring out to our public in New Haven exactly what happened,” Rovella, the former Hartford police chief, said Monday during a cabinet meeting with Gov. Ned Lamont. “It’s the public’s right to know and when I was in Hartford ... we had a mantra that said that good news came out quickly, bad news came out quicker. ... We liked to show our public exactly what’s going on. And I’ll be able to do that for them very soon.”
“The community’s got to know that the police are out there for them, keeping an eye on them, and the police have got to be representative of the community and [having] that type of community policing is the most effective way to do it,” Lamont said Monday. “Incidents like what happened in New Haven sometimes impact that and I want to make sure the community knows we’re there for them.”
Dolan said he is anxious to know more about the initial incident at the Gas n’ Go on Arch Street in Hamden, which prompted a Hamden police broadcast of an alleged attempted armed robbery.
Witherspoon’s uncle, Rodney Williams, said his nephew exchanged heated words with a newspaper deliveryman over a perceived slight, but said nothing close to a robbery attempt occurred at the store.
Hamden Officer Devin Eaton and Yale Officer Terrance Pollack attempted to box in the car after it was spotted at Dixwell Avenue and Argyle Street in New Haven.
Dolan said he’s intensely interested in the call that was placed to Hamden central communications, the broadcast dispatchers put out and the subsequent radio traffic.
Acting Hamden Police Chief John Cappiello said dispatchers put out a bulletin over the intertown hotline saying they had received a report of an attempted robbery.
New Haven officers did not arrive until after the cascade of gunfire had subsided.
Dolan said Pollack’s cruiser kept rolling after the officer jumped out, and the cruiser collided with Witherspoon’s car.
Dolan said it appears both officers fired from two different directions.
Asked if one officer fired because the other was firing, Dolan said the police video and audio evidence should shed light on that question. The two officers are on paid administrative leave.
“We’re anxious to get all the video and audio on what was reported to police, what led up to the stopping of the car and the police gunfire,” he said. “We have our investigator on it.”
Dolan said he will soon be filing a notice of intent to sue.
Courant staff writer Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.
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