On the second day of protests — after a shooting involving a Yale police officer and a Hamden police officer left an unarmed woman injured — a crowd of over 100 Yale workers, students and New Haven residents gathered outside University President Peter Salovey’s home on Wednesday night. Their demands: the two officers be fired, the body-cam footage be released and the state Attorney’s Office provide a fair and transparent investigation.
Standing in front of the gates of Salovey’s house, which were guarded by two Yale Police Department officers, community members chanted and individuals who identified themselves as workers and researchers at Yale voiced their outrage into megaphones.
“We are here in solidarity,” Unidad Latina en Acción organizer John Lugo told the News at the protest. “People are still being killed and assaulted by police officers. It’s something that’s happening all the time. Not just in Connecticut, but happening all around us.”
Just a few hours later, Salovey sent an email to the Yale community sharing more information on the officer-involved shooting incident. The update identified the Yale officer as 16-year department veteran Terrance Pollock. Per standard protocol when an officer discharges a weapon, Pollock was placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to Salovey. The Hamden officer, who was also placed on leave, was identified as Devin Eaton, according to the New Haven Independent.
“It is vitally important that we refrain from making assumptions about the circumstances of the shooting: the facts of this case will be made clear through the investigation,” Salovey wrote in his email to the Yale community.
According to the initial Connecticut State Police report, both the Hamden and Yale officer shot numerous rounds at two people in a vehicle, leaving one of the passengers injured with a shot wound in their torso. Both victims were unarmed, and no weapon was reportedly found in the vehicle. The driver of the car 21-year-old Paul Witherspoon was reportedly “not injured,” while the female passenger 22-year-old Stephanie Washington sustained injuries and was taken to Yale New Haven Hospital for surgery, according to the Connecticut State Police. Washington is currently in stable condition.
In response to the incident, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Hamden Mayor Curt Leng held a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon at New Haven City Hall along with their respective police chiefs. No representative from the University was present to speak at the press conference.
At the press briefing, Harp said that she was “troubled, concerned and frankly outraged” by the officer-involved shooting. The incident, she said, shows “police activity gone horribly wrong along the Hamden–New Haven line.”
“Now, Stephanie [Washington] — as well as many residents, her family, her friends — must live with the consequences and resulting uncertainty of what was, by every definition, an unacceptable response,” Harp said at the press briefing.
According to an April 16 press release from the Connecticut State Police — the organization carrying out the investigation into the incident — the Hamden Police Department responded at approximately 4:19 a.m. to an attempted armed robbery. A Yale Police Department officer was patrolling campus in Science Park when he responded to a call to assist a Hamden police officer, according to the April 17 Yale press release.
The officers located a car that matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle and attempted to “make contact” with the suspect in an interaction that resulted in the officers firing numerous rounds at the car, according to the state press release.
At the press briefing, Hamden Police Chief John Cappiello declined to respond to the News’ question asking if the car shot at was positively identified as the car involved with the armed robbery, citing the ongoing investigation into the incident. Connecticut State Police Officer Josue Dorleus said at a press briefing on Tuesday that the suspect’s vehicle matched the description of the car that was shot at, but could not confirm positive identification of the vehicle.
Harp said that going forward, police activity that “spills over must be standardized and memorialized,” so that the police officers from neighboring departments conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the guidelines applied to the NHPD. According to Harp, New Haven officials including acting Chief Administrative Officer Sean Matterson and New Haven Interim Police Chief Otoniel Reyes plan to partner with counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions to establish a framework for cross-jurisdictional policing policy to “guard against anything like this happening again.”
Leng said that representatives from the Hamden Police Department will begin attending the New Haven District Management Team meetings to address issues on the border of Hamden and New Haven.
Harp said that they had met with Yale representatives earlier that day and had just gotten off the phone with Yale prior to the briefing. According to Harp, YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, who was not at the press conference, is currently at the hospital with his daughter, who is ill.
Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, police departments have used a universal radio system. When a call comes into the New Haven Police Department, it goes out to the Yale police as well, said Harp. According to Harp, the Yale officer was only “three or four” blocks away from the Hamden officer, near Science Park, when he received the call.
The Connecticut State Police investigation established that both the Hamden police officer and Yale police officer discharged their weapons. But which officer hit Washington is still “a matter of investigation.”
At the press briefing, Leng said that the police promised to release all video and audio footage not sensitive to the investigation. The state’s attorney and state’s police have confiscated all videos and are currently examining the evidence, after which the tapes will be returned to the local departments. Leng predicted that some footage may be made public by Friday after reconvening with the state police. Leng asked that any resident or business that has any information regarding the incident contact State Police Major Crimes Unit Lieutenant Michael Pendleton.
Cappiello said that the city police departments need to work together to implement best practices.
“Everybody talks about town lines. Whose community is this? Whose community is that?” said Cappiello. “It’s all one community. Town lines are just a line that tax offices care about. I care about the people.”
The University’s April 17 update emphasized that Yale officers are trained to interact with community members in a respectful and professional manner. Salovey wrote that all Yale officers, many of whom are from the New Haven community, take “great pride” in how they engage with city residents.
Other students groups have raised concerns about Tuesday’s shooting. In a statement released Wednesday, the Yale Black Men’s Union and Yale Black Women’s Coalition said they stand with the victims, their families and the hundreds of protestors who have demanded answers from the Hamden Police Department.
“We also stand in solidarity with the millions who continue to be at risk of police mistreatment and injustice. This cannot continue,” the statement said.“The Yale Police Department exercises full police powers in areas far beyond University property, but they are neither transparent nor held accountable to the people they serve.”
The shooting occurred near Dixwell Avenue and Argyle Street in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
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