At a press conference in New Haven on Tuesday, Connecticut State Police released Hamden police body camera footage and all relevant dispatch audio from last week’s shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon by a Yale and a Hamden police officer. But authorities could not release the Yale officer’s footage because the officer failed to turn on his camera during the incident.
In the early morning of April 16, the two police officers shot at Washington and Witherspoon in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, which borders Hamden. Hours after the incident, the State’s Attorney and Connecticut State Police began an investigation, which is still ongoing. In the past week, community activists have made numerous demands of investigators and authorities — one of which was to release all body camera and otherwise relevant footage.
Tuesday’s release only included the body camera footage from the Hamden officer, Devin Eaton, but even this footage was incomplete, since Eaton only activated his camera seconds into the encounter. Authorities from the state claimed that the Yale Police Officer, Terrance Pollack, turned on his camera too late to capture the shooting, and thus did not release any YPD footage. John Rovella, commissioner of the State Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said Tuesday that the inactivation of both cameras is “inconsistent with policy and procedures.”
“You will hear very little audio on the body camera. Again, the [Hamden] officer did not engage his body camera before the incident. He has no cruiser camera. The body camera information that we were able to recall is just seconds before the incident — and it’s recall, so there’s no audio on it,” Rovella said before showing the video.
Prior to the release of the body camera footage, security camera footage on Dixwell Avenue that captured the event was widely viewed and shared on social media.
Initially, the police officers involved were responding to a reported robbery at a nearby gas station. But the state police said that, thus far, there is no forensic evidence that a robbery occurred at the gas station prior to the shooting. And Washington and Witherspoon were both unarmed inside their vehicle. Video footage shows Witherspoon exiting the driver’s side of the car with both hands up, as he was instructed by police.
The released Hamden officer body camera footage runs for 28 seconds, and shows the officer firing numerous shots at both sides of the car. The first 10 seconds of the Hamden police body camera footage did not have audio because the officer did not activate his body camera before the incident, said Rovella. The released body camera footage was collected using the “recall” function — video collected seconds before the incident without audio.
Rovella acknowledged that “in a perfect world, without all those stressors, yes [the Hamden officer] should have turned [the camera] on much sooner.”
He also said that the camera runs “for quite a long time,” but the moments after the shooting have not been released to the public because of the ongoing investigation. The investigation is expected to take two to three months to complete, according to Rovella.
Rovella said that though he could not say with certainty which officer fired his weapon first, the Connecticut State Police suspects that it is the Hamden officer.
At the press conference, Rovella said that it is “unheard of” that the State police are “putting [the footage] out so quickly.” He said that this marked a difference in operating procedures because usually, the footage is released only after termination of an investigation.
“Right now, I have no intention of charging the officers without the full investigation being in front of us,” Rovella said at the press conference. “And that is not me charging … it’s actually Patrick Griffin the State’s Attorney reviewing the information and deciding on the charge.”
On Tuesday evening, University Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner sent out an email updating the Yale community on the press conference. Lindner announced that the University will begin its own investigation following Tuesday’s release. University representatives previously said that Yale could not investigate until after the conclusion of the state’s investigation.
Activists called for the firing of Pollock, who is currently placed on administrative leave. But Lindner’s email stated that Pollock will “remain on leave throughout the state’s investigation.”
“Yale’s review and conclusions will ultimately require the results of the state’s criminal investigation, and we ask for the community’s patience as that process unfolds,” Lindner wrote. “Until the investigation is complete and all the facts are known, let us commit to refrain from drawing final conclusions about this incident.”
The Yale Police Department has 93 officers.
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