Police officer charged after shooting at unarmed couple

    “Police accountability will not exist until every level of government works to prevent police violence and to hold police employees responsible each time they hurt or kill someone.”

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    Recorded on surveillance footage and police body cam video recklessly shooting at an unarmed couple sitting inside a parked car, a Connecticut police officer was charged Monday with assault and reckless endangerment. In addition to shooting an unarmed woman, the officer also committed friendly fire when one of his bullets grazed the leg of another officer.

    On April 16, a surveillance video recorded Hamden Police Officer Devin Eaton exiting his patrol vehicle and ordering Paul Witherspoon to show his hands. Complying with Eaton’s orders, Witherspoon opened his door with both hands in the air when Eaton suddenly began shooting at him.

    Fearing for his life, Witherspoon hid inside the car with his girlfriend, Stephanie Washington, as Eaton moved to the other side of the car and fired several shots through the passenger side windows. Hearing the gunshots, Yale Police Officer Terrance Pollock mistakenly thought that Witherspoon and Eaton were exchanging gunfire.

    A surveillance camera recorded Pollock exiting his patrol vehicle and firing three rounds. A bullet fragment from Eaton’s gun grazed Pollock’s leg.

    Eaton fired at least 13 rounds at the unarmed couple. Although Witherspoon was unharmed, Washington suffered a gunshot wound to the leg that fractured her pelvis and spine.

    According to investigators, Eaton pulled over Witherspoon after receiving a report of an attempted armed robbery at a gas station in Hamden. Although a surveillance video depicts Witherspoon arguing with another man at the gas station, the clerk later told police that he never saw a gun.

    Both Witherspoon and Washington survived the shooting and were not charged after the incident. Washington was hospitalized for several days and underwent abdominal surgery for her wounds.

    In a statement to investigators, Washington recalled, “I could see the police officer get out of the Hamden car and was in the street before Paul opened his door. I was still playing music through the car at the time but we could hear each other talk. When Paul opened his door and put his hands up, the officer pulled out his pistol and started shooting with no hesitation.”

    She added, “I thought I was going to die.”

    Eaton was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting. Hamden’s acting Police Chief John Cappiello recently announced that Eaton will be placed on unpaid leave due to the criminal charges against him.

    “Under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, [Eaton] recklessly engaged in conduct which created a risk of death, and thereby caused serious physical injury to Washington,” said New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin, who ruled Eaton’s actions were unjustified. “Additionally, the reckless manner in which the shots were discharged placed those in the immediate vicinity, including Paul Witherspoon and Officer Pollock, at risk for serious physical injury.”

    On Monday, Eaton was charged with one felony count of assault in the first degree and two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment in the first degree. If convicted, he could face up to 22 years in prison.

    “Regardless of the outcome of this one case, true police accountability still does not exist in Connecticut,” David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said in a recent statement. “Police accountability will not exist until every level of government works to prevent police violence and to hold police employees responsible each time they hurt or kill someone, not just in cases when hundreds of people have taken to the streets in protest.

    “Justice would have been Devin Eaton never shooting Stephanie Washington in the first place. Justice would have been the City of Hamden’s Board of Police Commissioners following the City’s own law by accepting residents’ complaints about Eaton’s violence. Justice would have been the City of Hamden firing Devin Eaton months ago.”

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