A Hamden, Conn., police officer was arrested and charged with assault and reckless endangerment on Monday for shooting an unarmed black couple. The arrest comes six months after Officer Devin Eaton fired 13 shots at Stephanie Washington and her boyfriend, Paul Witherspoon, as they drove their SUV near Yale University’s campus.
From NBC News:
State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin said in an investigation report that Hamden officer Devin Eaton showed “an extreme indifference to human life” and that the use of force April 16 in New Haven was not justified.
Eaton, 29, who has been on the force for three years, posted $100,000 bail and was ordered to appear in court Oct. 28 to face one count of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.
Surveillance footage of the shooting showed Eaton jumping out of his SUV with gun drawn and firing into the SUV, which matched the description of a vehicle involved in a reported attempted armed robbery after Witherspoon stepped out of it. Eaton fired a few rounds at the driver’s side, before running to the passenger side of the vehicle and firing some more, NBC reports. He blew out the passenger-side windows. Despite being fired at from both Eaton and Yale University officer Terrance Pollock, Witherspoon wasn’t hit. Washington, however, was wounded by a bullet that fractured her pelvis and spine.
Eaton was apparently triggered by Witherspoon’s swift exit from the vehicle. He defended his use of force in a sworn statement to investigators.
“Based on his close proximity to me and his sudden and aggressive actions when exiting the vehicle, I was afraid that [Witherspoon] was about to shoot me and cause me serious bodily injury or death,” Eaton said.
Officer Pollock wasn’t charged because his use of force was found justified by the State’s Attorney—Pollock said he believed Eaton and Witherspoon were shooting at each other, NBC News reports. Eaton attempted to use a similar excuse, claiming he had mistaken Pollock’s shots for Witherspoon’s (who, again, didn’t have a gun on him or in the vehicle). But State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin noted that Pollock didn’t fire his weapon until Eaton had already unloaded eight shots.
Both victims and both officers are black. Eaton, who has been on paid leave since the shooting, is now on unpaid leave after being charged; he remains on the force.
The shooting prompted days of protest in New Haven and Hamden from concerned residents demanding accountability.
“This is not just a Hamden situation or a New Haven situation,” demonstrator Remidy Shareef said in an interview with NBC Connecticut at the time. “This situation is the culture of policing throughout America.” Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, said Monday the arrest was “no time to celebrate.” He believes both officers should have been arrested.
“Being arrested is one thing and getting convicted is another,” Esdaile told NBC News. “We’ve seen officers arrested but walk away without being convicted ... We still have a long way to go.”