Adrian Kulesza, Staff Photographer
In the wake of the recent death at the hands of police of Daunte Wright and the guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin, the former police officer that murdered George Floyd, an incident where a New Haven police officer pointed a gun and a taser at a shoplifter has prompted an NHPD internal investigation.
The incident occurred last Wednesday outside the Walmart on Foxon Boulevard. The officer, Christian Carfora, pointed his gun and taser at Robert Banks, a 50-year-old West Haven resident, after Carfora attempted to stop Banks at the store exit after noticing on a CCTV feed that Banks was attempting to shoplift merchandise.
On Tuesday, the New Haven Police Department simultaneously issued a press release about the incident and made available Carfora’s body camera footage “in response to media requests for comment.” The press release said that NHPD had released a separate report following the incident. That report is not publicly available on NHPD’s website. The body camera footage is the third such NHPD video to gain widespread media attention this year, following two police punching incidents, the first in February and the second in March.
In the Tuesday press release, the NHPD said that it plans “to review the appropriateness of the officer’s use of force.” NHPD Chief Renee Dominguez wrote in an email to the News that the New Haven Police Academy is currently reviewing the incident from a “training perspective.” The department is currently executing a “three-pronged” approach that involves the internal affairs, patrol and training divisions.
“Every use of force incident, per our general order, requires a use of force form be completed by the officer who used force or displayed the use of force,” Dominguez wrote to the News. “The form, police report, and body worn camera footage are then reviewed by a patrol supervisor, the internal affairs division, and the training division to ensure policies, procedures, and training were followed.”
The News reviewed the released body camera footage. The video begins with Carfora running from the security room when he discovered through CCTV that Banks had stolen items from the store.
Banks ran from the store to his car with the stolen items then entered his car and closed the driver-seat door, at which point Carfora opened the door and pointed his taser at him, according to the video.
The video then shows Carfora directing Banks to get out of the car. As he stepped out, Banks repeatedly screamed, “it’s only a T-shirt.” Carfora is then audible saying multiple profane words to Banks while demanding he exit his vehicle. Carfora took Banks’ car keys away from his hand.
While stepping out of his car, the video shows, Banks reached into his pockets, at which point Carfora pointed a gun at Banks and told him to get on the ground. In the footage, Banks apologized audibly multiple times while Carfora pulled Banks’ hands behind his back after he lay down on the floor then proceeded to handcuff him. Carfora and another officer then searched his body for possible items of theft, according to the video.
Carfora is then shown leading Banks to the police car and explaining his motivations for pulling the gun at him.
“You can’t start reaching with your hands in your pockets like that, that’s why I pulled my gun at you,” Carfora said in the video.
Carfora is under investigation but has not been placed on leave. Banks was charged with larceny in the sixth degree and interference of an officer.
Another officer in the video, Paul Vitale, told Banks that the motivation for his arrest was his initial resistance to officer questioning.
“If you had just stopped right there and said ‘OK, I’ll give you the stuff back,’ we would’ve handed you your summons, and you would have walked away,” Vitale said in the video. “And because of everything else that escalated and because of you trying to escape and the actions that you took, you have to be processed.”
This incident comes after Dominguez announced Tuesday that the department will re-initiate its de-escalation program.
Dominguez described the department’s de-escalation protocol as a “system of checks and balances.” In the context of the department’s push for reformed de-escalation training, Dominguez wrote to the News that as the NHPD reimplemented this form of training at the end of March. She added that she is looking for new training methods for de-escalation.
In a Monday press conference at Newhallville church, Rev. Boise Kimber, a pastor of First Calvary Baptist churches in New Haven, questioned NHPD de-escalation techniques: “Do you pull a gun on an individual for shoplifting?”
The video has obtained 11,500 views as of Wednesday evening.