A Connecticut police officer has been charged with assault and reckless endangerment for opening fire on an unarmed black couple.
The charge comes six months after Devin Eaton fired 13 shots at Paul Witherspoon III and his girlfriend, Stephanie Washington, who were driving their car near Yale University.
Eaton indiscriminately shot at the couple on suspicion that the SUV they drove in matched the description of one involved in a reported attempted armed robbery.
One of the bullets struck Washington, fracturing her pelvis and spine in the incident which occurred April this year in New Haven.
An investigation report said Eaton displayed “extreme indifference to human life” and that his actions were unjustified.
Eaton, 29, who has been on the force for three years, carried out the shooting in the company of Yale University officer Terrance Pollock. Pollock was, however, not charged because his use of force was justified, states Attorney Patrick Griffin.
Eaton, who is on a $100,000 bail, has been ordered to appear in court October 28 to face one count of first-degree assault and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.
Eaton’s body camera video showed Witherspoon, who was not injured, exiting the car and appearing to raise his hands when Eaton began shooting, reports NBCNews. Witherspoon then quickly gets back into the vehicle.
Surveillance video shows the moment a Hamden Police Officer opens fire on a car in New Haven. pic.twitter.com/h7IrwPbcgo— Kent Pierce (@kentpierce8) April 16, 2019
Eaton fired a few shots at the driver’s side of the car, then ran to the other side and fired again, blowing out the passenger-side windows, according to reports. He told authorities he thought Witherspoon had a gun.
No weapons were, however, observed at the scene.
In a sworn statement to investigators released Monday, Eaton said: “I could see that he was not holding anything in his left hand but as he began to turn towards me I saw the operator (Witherspoon) begin to raise his right arm up and it appeared that he was holding an object in his right hand, which I believed to be a gun.”
“Based on his close proximity to me and his sudden and aggressive actions when exiting the vehicle, I was afraid that the operator was about to shoot me and cause me serious bodily injury or death,” he added.
Eaton’s arrest means the paid leave he has been on since the shooting will be changed to unpaid leave.
According to Griffin, some of Eaton’s statements conflicted with the evidence following investigations.
“Under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, he recklessly engaged in conduct which created a risk of death, and thereby caused serious physical injury to Washington,” Griffin said in his investigative report. “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.”
The shooting sparked 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.
President of the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, Scot X. Esdaile, said both officers should have been arrested.
“Being arrested is one thing and getting convicted is another,” Esdaile said. “We’ve seen officers arrested but walk away without being convicted. It’s no time to celebrate. We still have a long way to go.”
Gregory Cerritelli, who’s representing Eaton said his client and fellow officers were distraught by the arrest. According to him, it sent a chilling message to law enforcement.
“Police officers are called upon to make split-second decisions and exercise their judgment and discretion,” Cerritelli said. “It’s a sad day for the law enforcement community because the message officer Eaton’s arrest sends is that they need to be 100 percent right 100 percent of the time.”