Search Warrant Application Reveals Driver's Account of Hamden & Yale Police Shooting

The court paperwork includes the statement Paul Witherspoon provided to state police investigators when interviewed at the Hamden Police Department on April 16.

A search warrant application obtained by NBC Connecticut offers new details about the Hamden and Yale police shooting of an unarmed couple in a car in New Haven.

The passenger, 22-year-old Stephanie Washington, survived being shot and the driver, 21-year-old Paul Witherspoon, was not hit.

State authorities have taken over the investigation while the two officers involved remain on paid administrative leave.

The court paperwork includes the statement Witherspoon provided to state police investigators when interviewed at the Hamden Police Department on April 16.

Witherspoon told them he got into an altercation with a newspaper delivery man at the Hamden gas station, but denied ever showing or implying he had a gun.

The paperwork also included an account from the newspaper delivery man and the gas station clerk. The person delivering the papers told police he was approached by a male and that the interaction left him convinced the man was trying to rob him. He did not mention a gun.

The clerk “stated that he never saw the suspect (Witherspoon) with firearm," though during the 911 call he said "he pulled a gun on the guy who delivered the paper."

Police did not arrest or charge Witherspoon and no gun was found in the car.

In his account of the police shooting, seen widely in surveillance video from a nearby building, Witherspoon said he saw two police cars driving at him from Dixwell Street onto Argyle Street.

Witherspoon said Hamden Officer Devin Eaton got out of the car and ordered him to get out, too.

"(Witherspoon) believed the officer told him to show his hands, but because his window doesn't open, he pushed open the door with his left arm and then reached out the door with both arms and hands extended," police wrote in the search warrant application.

Witherspoon told investigators he never reached for anything and as he got out of the car, he looked behind him and saw the officer pointing the gun at him.

New Haven Attorney John R. Williams is not involved in this case, but has extensive experience dealing with issues of police misconduct. From reviewing the surveillance and body camera video released Tuesday, he told NBC Connecticut the officers could be charged with first-degree attempted assault. 

"Well I'm less concerned with criminal penalties than asking the more fundamental question is why did this happen," Williams explained, "and how can we make sure it doesn't happen again and prosecuting those policemen is not going keep it from happening again. That requires accountability on the part of the employers and the trainers or non-trainers of those police officers."

Members of the clergy and Black Lives Matter New Haven met Thursday afternoon with Yale University President Peter Salovey and other officials.

"We have come to an understanding that there will be change and the community will be leading that change with Yale," Ala Ochumare from Black Lives Matter said. "It will be a coalition."

Ochumare and the clergy said Yale has agreed to put its officers through new urban trauma, deescalation and implicit bias training.

The clergy said they are still demanding the immediate termination of Hamden Officer Eaton and Yale Officer Pollock. 

"This is what we're asking for," Rev. Dr. Boise Kimber said.

Williams pointed out that the officers have rights under the constitution and collective bargaining agreements.

"That's why the town and university can't just turn around and fire them," Williams said. "They have to go through the procedures."

Williams said he has watched the videos of the police shooting that has sparked more than a week of protests. 

"It's painfully clear from the video as well as the witness statements that the police handled this in an extremely unprofessional manner," he said.

"The wonderful thing about the video evidence we have these days is it’s not so easy to cover up police wrongdoing the way it used to be in the past," Williams added.

The search warrant application states the Hamden gas station clerk who called 911 reporting an attempted armed robbery told investigators he never saw Witherspoon with a firearm.

In the 911 recordings released Tuesday by state police, the clerk said "he pulled a gun on the guy who delivered the paper here in Hamden."

"It's just a horrible tragedy we're lucky that people aren't dead," Williams told NBC Connecticut.

Both Hamden Mayor Curt Leng and Yale officials have said they are asking for patience and waiting for the state investigation to finish before a decision will be made about the two officers' futures with their police departments.

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