Details are emerging out of the officer-involved shooting that wounded a passenger in a car pursued by Hamden and Yale University police this month in New Haven.
State investigators recently applied for a search and seizure warrant. In an affidavit, detectives asked to examine a red 1999 Honda Civic driven by Paul Witherspoon.
Detectives investigating the shooting believe that blood, saliva, bullet casings and fragments, and any other potential evidence found in that car could support a first-degree assault charge.
Two officers involved in the shooting, Hamden police officer Devin Eaton and Yale officer Terrance Pollock are being looked at in this phase of the investigation.
“There’s video evidence that that they were firing at my client and a passenger,” said Michael Dolan, Witherspoon’s attorney. “There’s trace evidence and physical evidence that a car was shot up.”
“It’s certainly a very strong case for misconduct by the police officers and obviously, we’ll be holding them responsible, as well as people and the entities that were responsible for training them,” Dolan said.
The incident began around 4:20 a.m. on April 16, according to the affidavit, with a call to Hamden Police Department dispatch personnel from a witness who said he saw someone pull out a weapon and ask a newspaper delivery man for money at a Hamden gas station and market. The witness provided information that led police to Witherspoon and the vehicle’s passenger Stephanie Washington as possible suspects.
The delivery driver was also interviewed as part of the investigation. He said that he was approached by a man who reportedly asked, “Do you have anything for me?” The delivery man also said that the person grabbed newspapers he was trying to give to the station’s clerk and that he was sure that the alleged suspect was trying to rob him.
Dolan said the person that reported the presence of a gun has since retracted that claim. He also said his client maintains that he didn’t try to rob anyone.
At least one former law enforcement official doesn’t think that the officers involved in the shooting will be found guilty of first-degree assault.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired sergeant with the New York City Police Department, said a judge would likely determine that Eaton and Pollock were justified in opening fire on the car.
“It would definitely fall within the reasonableness standard of the Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor where a reasonable officer would’ve reacted similarly in a situation where you’re facing what you believe at the time to be an armed threat and you respond with deadly physical force on top of that,” he said.
Giacalone, who now teaches a criminal justice investigations course at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was invoking a Supreme Court opinion that weighed whether excessive force was used in the 1984 arrest of Dethorne Graham.
“I know the public is probably not happy about this -- the victims and the victims’ family isn’t – but we have to be guided by what the law says what the police can do and not so much what we think is our present opinion on what law enforcement should be able to do,” Giacalone said.
Patrick Griffin, New Haven’s state’s attorney overseeing this investigation, declined to comment on the details revealed in the warrant application.
Stephanie Washington, the passenger, was hit as a result of the gunfire. She was transported to a local hospital with what detectives said were “non-life threatening injuries.” Witherspoon was not injured.
The incident has led to days of protests in New Haven, calling on Yale and Hamden to fire the two officers involved, and calling for better training in de-escalation techniques during confrontations with suspects.