Acting Hamden police chief John Cappiello on Tuesday recommended the termination of the Hamden police officer who shot two unarmed New Haven residents in April.
In a letter to the Hamden Police Commission, Cappiello said that the officer, Devin Eaton, committed multiple violations of the Hamden Police Rules and Regulations, including “conduct unbecoming,” “neglect of duty” and excessive use of force. Last month, State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin criminally charged Eaton with one count of assault in the first degree and two counts of reckless endangerment in the first degree. In a court appearance on Nov. 5, Eaton pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has been on unpaid administrative leave since the release of the report.
The April shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon in New Haven sparked widespread protests in both New Haven and Hamden as activists called for the immediate termination of Eaton and Yale police officer Terrance Pollock, who also fired shots. The state’s attorney’s report revived the demonstrations, and in the weeks since, protests have been held in the Broadway island in New Haven, Hamden’s Town Hall, at Legislative Council meetings and outside Hamden Mayor Curt Leng’s home. Griffin’s report cleared Pollock of criminal charges.
“Violations of law or disregard for public safety and property on the part of an officer are intrinsically wrong,” Cappiello wrote in his letter to the commission. “There was no information that Washington was armed or considered a threat to public safety.”
In April, Washington and Witherspoon were traveling in a Honda Civic on Argyle Street near Dixwell Avenue when Eaton stopped the car following a 911 call reporting an armed robbery at a Hamden Gas N’ Go station. Video footage released later shows Witherspoon starting to exit the vehicle and raise his hands when Eaton began firing towards him. Griffin’s investigation confirmed that Pollock, with the Yale Police Department, exited his patrol car and fired at the Honda Civic after his own car was struck by a stray bullet fired by Eaton. Witherspoon was uninjured while Washington sustained a gunshot wound to her upper thigh that fractured her pelvis and spine.
Cappiello’s recommendation comes at the end of a monthslong investigation into Eaton’s conduct by the Ethics and Integrity Unit of the Hamden Police Department. The Hamden Board of Police Commissioners will review the recommendation and commence hearings within 30 days to determine whether Eaton’s employment will be continued.
Protestors have been frustrated by the lengthy process surrounding HPD’s internal investigation into Eaton, particularly after the state charged and arrested the officer. Longtime community activist Kerry Ellington told the News that while Cappiello’s recommendation was progress, it lacked a timeline for proceedings. The only well-defined requirement is that hearings begin between seven and 30 days after the recommendation’s publication.
“It’s sad when it takes a municipal government over seven months to respond to the community,” Ellington said on Wednesday. “We want to know the date that the process will be completed and whether the hearings will be public.”
On Tuesday, Black Students for Disarmament at Yale — an organization formed in the wake of the April shooting — released a statement on Facebook, claiming that the city of Hamden had been “stonewalling the process for months.”
The group criticized the police commission’s failure to include Eaton’s status at a board meeting last week, as well as waiting for the State’s Attorney’s investigation to conclude before beginning their own.
Activists told the News that this outcome is a result of applied pressure.
“It was only after direct confrontation with bold, courageous and persistent community activists from the greater New Haven area that they decided to expedite their shame process,” Black Students for Disarmament wrote in its statement. “We are proud of this small step towards justice and the organizing that wrought [sic] it, but we are not satisfied.”
Ellington told the News that protests would continue until Pollock was also discharged from the Yale Police Department. Pollock remains on administrative leave while Yale carries out its own internal investigation.
As well as the termination of both officers, activists have continued to demand their decertification and placing limits on the jurisdiction of police departments. While the shooting in April took place in Newhallville, on the New Haven side of the Hamden-New Haven border, the New Haven Police Department was uninvolved in the shooting.
In his letter, Cappiello rebuked Eaton for “failure to notify a supervisor that he was entering another jurisdiction” as well as “reckless disregard” of police training, his surroundings and discharge of a firearm.
The Connecticut Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in on Cappiello’s recommendation, claiming it was problematic that the case had only moved forward due to the persistence of hundreds of community activists.
“Regardless of the outcome of this one case, true police accountability still does not exist in Connecticut,” David McGuire, executive director of ACLU-CT, said. “Justice would have been Devin Eaton never shooting Stephanie Washington in the first place.”
Eaton’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 10.
Meera Shoaib | email@example.com