A Connecticut cop who fired into a car of unarmed citizens said he imagined a gun in the hands of the driver who was complying with his orders to step out of the car with his arms raised.
And that is usually all it takes for a cop to be cleared of any wrongdoing but it did not work this time.
Instead, Hamden police officer Devin Eaton was charged with assault and reckless endangerment last week. His attorney said that Eaton and other officers are “distraught” over the charges, according to NBC News.
“Police officers are called upon to make split-second decisions and exercise their judgment and discretion,” attorney Gregory 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.”
In this case, the “split-second decision” that has justified so many police killings in the past was captured on body cam video and shows Eaton firing 13 times at a car he had pulled over while running away.
Another cop who pulled up to the scene, Yale University police officer Terrance Pollock, also began shooting but he was not charged because he said he believed he had encountered a gunfight between the occupants of the car and the officer. He fired three times.
Luckily, both victims survived but the woman sitting in the passenger seat, Stephanie Washington, 22, was struck by a single bullet which fractured her spine and pelvis. The driver of the car, Paul Witherspoon III, was only grazed by a bullet.
Washington recounted the incident to investigators, saying, “I was trying to take cover from the gunshots, so I was leaning in between the driver and passenger seats, towards the back seat. It was like being in a nightmare,” Washington said. “I thought I was going to die.”
The incident took place on April 16 when Eaton pulled the red Honda Civic because it was said to match of another red Honda Civic involved in an armed robbery.
But Witherspoon then stepped out of the car with his hands in the air, which made Eaton fear for his life and start shooting while running away. The first several seconds of the video does not include audio.
This is how Eaton described the incident in his report.
“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,” Eaton said.
“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,” Eaton said.
Although Eaton said all the right things to be cleared of any wrongdoing based on countless previous shootings we’ve reported on, New Haven State Attorney Patrick J. Griffin viewed it differently, according to the Hartford Courant.
“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,” New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick J. Griffin said in his report of the investigation that led to Eaton’s arrest.
Eaton, who had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, was placed on unpaid leave last week after he was charged. The 29-year-old man has been with the agency for three years.
In a press conference after the shooting which you can watch below, Connecticut state police officer Josue Dolerus told media that Eaton fired after Witherspoon stepped out of the car in an “abrupt manner.”
He also continued to refer to the victims as the “suspects” even though he acknowledge no gun was found.
Also below is a surveillance video of the shooting.