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Protest rallies against Hamden officer who gets probation after 2019 police shooting

Police Shooting-Connecticut
Arnold Gold
Hamden police officer Devin Eaton is arraigned in Superior Court in New Haven, Connecticut, Oct. 28, 2019. Eaton, who fired his gun 13 times at an unarmed couple's car and wounded a woman and another officer in 2019, was sentenced to three years probation and 450 hours of community service.

Civil rights activists protested the sentencing of a former Connecticut police officer to three years probation and 450 hours of community service after he opened fire on an unarmed couple's car in New Haven three years ago.

In 2019, former Hamden Officer Devin Eaton fired 13 rounds at the car of Paul Witherspoon III and Stephanie Washington. The couple was stopped by police because their car matched the description of a car linked to a reported attempted armed robbery. Eaton and the couple in the car are all Black.

Eaton’s body camera video shows Witherspoon getting out of the car and appearing to raise his hands when Eaton started shooting. Witherspoon quickly got back into the car and wasn’t injured. Washington, who was 22 at the time of the incident, was shot multiple times and suffered a fractured pelvis and spine.

Kerry Ellington, who serves as a community and economic justice organizer at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said Eaton avoiding jail time is outrageous.

“We need something different,” Ellington said. “It's time for change and Eaton walking free from real consequence further proves this to be true. We have work to do and most importantly, we need justice for Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon.”

Terrance Pollock, a Yale University officer, responded to the traffic stop and also fired his gun three times at the car. He believed that Eaton and Witherspoon were exchanging gunfire. During the incident, Pollock was grazed from a bullet Eaton fired.

“We heard about gunfire at the levels comparative to the mass shootings we see happening across the nation,” Ellington said. “Eaton, Pollock, the police forces of Hamden, Yale and New Haven were the only perpetrators and the only offenders that night of April 16, 2019 and the court just let Eaton walk free.”

Eaton resigned in January after pleading no contest to felony assault. He agreed to serve up to 18 months in prison while holding the right to argue for less or no prison time during the sentencing, which his lawyer did.

Rhonda Caldwell, Hamden Action Now's founder and lead organizer, said there’s still lots of work to be done.

“Our work here will never be finished until a police officer that breaks the law and breaks protocol receives real life consequences and this here ain’t it,” Caldwell said. “Three years of probation says ‘go on, get on with your life. You had a little mistake. You had a little hiccup, you're good.’ It's not good enough.”

New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin determined Eaton’s use of deadly force wasn’t justified. Eaton had been charged with assault and reckless endangerment.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.
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