Yale students held a letter-writing campaign on Tuesday evening petitioning a judge to exonerate two individuals who were shot by New Britain police in a high-speed car chase.

Black Students for Disarmament at Yale and Black Student Alliance at Yale gathered dozens of students in the Afro-American Cultural Center to demand a judge to drop the charges leveraged against Noah Young and Caleb Tisdol, who were 18 and 15 at the time of the shooting in December 2017. Twenty-year old Zoe Dowdell was killed in the shooting by police officers who suspected the trio were involved in multiple crimes in and around New Britain. Young and Tisdol were subsequently arrested and now face charges of carjacking, robbery and assault, with a trial date set later this year. They are currently on house arrest.

“We’re showing that Yale students are standing in solidarity and in support of Noah and Caleb,” Jaelen King ’22, an organizer for Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, told the News. “We aren’t going to let the two keep getting pushed through the system. They should all be alive and not have been shot at.”

An investigative report by Fairfield State’s Attorney John Smriga was published early this year and cleared all five officers who fired at the three individuals of criminal charges. Smriga justified the actions of the officers by reasoning that the use of deadly force was warranted because the officers believed they were “at risk of death or imminent bodily harm” and were attempting to “protect the public from a dangerous fleeing fugitive.”

In Tuesday’s petitioning event, students also asked the judge in their letters to free Tisdol and Young from house arrest. Before being released on bonds, the two served jail time, and, according to student activists, Young was kept in solitary confinement for 13 months.

“[For] what they’ve been through, they deserve the charges to be dropped as reparations for the way they’ve been treated by the state,” King said. “They’ve served enough.”

According to the report, in December 2017, police received reports of a spate of carjackings and armed robberies across New Britain and neighbouring cities. The incidents included a robbery at gunpoint where a “female passenger was forcibly groped and subjected to degrading sexual comments,” another involved a victim being “pistol-whipped” and in a third incident the assailants fired at the victim’s car as she fled the scene. Officers believed the perpetrators had been travelling in a Toyota Paseo with a New Hampshire registration plate.car

On the evening of Dec. 14, a vehicle matching this description was identified and was occupied by Dowdell, Young and Tisdol. Dashboard camera footage shows police cruisers pursuing the Toyota down a street in New Britain as they sought to “box in” the vehicle. With Dowdell at the wheel, the Toyota was driven up a front lawn embankment and lurched down the sidewalk after a police cruiser hit the passenger side of the vehicle. Officers then began to shoot at the vehicle, firing 28 rounds in approximately 10 seconds as the Toyota continued to roll down the sidewalk and hit a parked car.

In the footage, police are seen shouting for medics, tourniquets and ambulances, while one of teenagers can be heard crying. Dowdell was taken to St. Francis Hospital and pronounced dead later that night from gunshot wounds to the head, neck, leg and hand. Tisdol sustained a gunshot wound in each leg. An autopsy revealed that Dowdell had levels of 2 nanograms per millileter marijuana in his bloodstream. A search of the vehicle, according to Smriga’s report, revealed narcotics, ammunition and handguns.

“There are many red flags in this case,” Zoe Hopson ’22, a member of BSD who was at the letter writing campaign, told the News. “For example, why weren’t Noah and Caleb arrested immediately? No charges were brought against them until after the fact.”

Activists also lamented the fact that full dash cam footage was only released to the public this past month — alongside Smriga’s report — depriving community members of the chance to organize in response. Authorities claimed the information was withheld to avoid witness testimony being clouded by the footage.

Since the time of the shooting, activists across the state have protested the use of lethal force by the New Britain Police Department, and are now raising funds to support the legal fees of Tisdol and Young. Dowdell’s mother has since filed a $6.5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, and family members of all three individuals have spoken out against the charges.

“[Young, Tisdol and Dowdell] were involved in a bout of unjustified police brutality,” Eden Senay ’22 told the News as she wrote her letter to the judge. “They were in the car, they watched their friend being shot at and killed and they were wounded with no provocation on their behalf.”

The officers who fired shots were Kyle Jones, Christopher Kiely, Michael Slavin, Marcin Ratajczak and Chad Nelson. According to Smriga’s report, no ballistic comparison of forensic analysis allowed investigators to determine which of the five officers had fired the shot that killed Dowdell.

 

Meera Shoaib | meera.shoaib@yale.edu