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Clergy call for firing of 2 officers involved in shooting

By DAVE COLLINSApril 24, 2019

Clergy and community leaders called Wednesday for the immediate firing of two Connecticut police officers who opened fire on a car and seriously wounded a passenger, saying newly released police video shows last week’s shooting began when the driver started getting out of the vehicle with his hands up.

“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” the leaders chanted at a news conference in New Haven, invoking words used during protests that have followed other police shootings around the country.

Authorities said Hamden officer Devin Eaton and Yale University officer Terrance Pollack stopped the car in New Haven on April 16 while responding to a report of an attempted armed robbery in Hamden. Police said both officers opened fire when the driver got out of the car abruptly. The shooting sparked several protests in New Haven and neighboring Hamden. Another is planned for Thursday.

Eaton’s body camera video, released by state police on Tuesday, shows him starting to shoot after the driver, 21-year-old Paul Witherspoon III, begins getting out of the car and raising his arms. The video shows Eaton then run to the other side of the car and fire several shots that smashed out the front passenger door window.

Witherspoon’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Stephanie Washington, was shot but survived. She has been released from a hospital. Officials also said Pollack was wounded during the shooting but have not elaborated. Witherspoon was not injured. Witherspoon and Washington are black, as are the two officers.

The Rev. Boise Kimber, of the First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, said the body camera and surveillance videos clearly show what happened and there is no need to wait for investigations to be completed before firing the two officers, who were placed on paid leave pending the probes.

“They have violated every protocol of their department,” Kimber said during Wednesday’s news conference. “We’re asking Hamden, we’re asking Yale ... to terminate those two officers to bring some relief to our community. Mr. Witherspoon got out of his car with his hands up — with his hands up — and was fired upon.”

Yale referred questions about the calls to fire the officers to comments made Tuesday by Janet Lindner, the school’s vice president for administration. Lindner said Pollack will remain on paid leave until investigations are completed.

“Until the investigation is complete and all the facts are known, let us commit to refrain from drawing final conclusions about this incident,” Lindner said.

“The shooting was a tragedy, and Yale offers its heartfelt feelings of concern to Ms. Washington, Mr. Witherspoon, and their families,” she said. “We all want a just outcome.”

Messages seeking comment were left with Hamden officials on Wednesday.

Eaton fired 13 shots and Pollack fired three, said James Rovella, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees state police. Authorities did not find a gun in the car.

Witherspoon’s relatives have also disputed the report of an attempted armed robbery, saying Witherspoon only argued with a man who cut in front of him in line at a gas station. Local clergy on Wednesday said the person who reported the attempted robbery should be arrested.

Eaton did not activate his body camera until after the shooting, but the gunfire was still recorded because the camera has a feature that recalls images from the moments before it is turned on, Rovella said Tuesday. Pollack’s body camera and cruiser dashboard camera were not turned on, Rovella said.

Both Hamden and Yale have similar policies requiring officers to turn on their body cameras during interactions with the public, but only when it is safe to do so.

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