Photo: David Zheng for the Yale Daily News

I spent my sophomore year at Yale reporting as the Yale Daily News’ Cops and Courts beat reporter. In the final weeks of my beat year, a Yale and Hamden police officer shot multiple rounds at two unarmed New Haven residents—Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon—in their car. In the days that followed, Yale, New Haven and Hamden community members took to the streets in a string of protests, shutting down major city roads for hours and demanding justice for the two victims.

YPD, HPD officers involved in shooting

Yale Daily News, April 17 2019

A Yale Police Department officer and a Hamden Police Department officer fired numerous rounds at two people in a car at a motor vehicle stop, leaving a young woman injured early Tuesday morning.

At roughly 4:19 a.m., the Hamden Police Department responded to a 911 call reporting an attempted armed robbery of a newspaper delivery person at a Gas and Go station at 144 Arch St. in Hamden, according to a Tuesday Connecticut State Police press release. The press release said that an officer from the Hamden Police Department and an officer from the Yale Police Department then located the suspect’s vehicle near Dixwell Avenue and Argyle Street in New Haven.

The officers attempted to “make contact” with the suspect and initiated a motor vehicle stop, the state press release said. During the interaction with the people in the suspect’s vehicle, “numerous rounds were fired by both officers on the scene.”

“Obviously one of our officers was involved in an unfortunate incident. I cannot go into the details as to what transpired. An individual was unfortunately shot,” said Hamden Deputy Police Chief Bo Kicak at the Hamden Police Department’s headquarters on Tuesday evening.

In a public safety advisory sent via email at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner informed the Yale community that both a Hamden and Yale officer discharged their weapons and that a passenger was struck. According to the email, the passenger’s injuries were “not life-threatening,” and the YPD officer who fired the weapon has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of the Connecticut State Police Department’s investigation.

Surveillance video, posted on Facebook by Kent Pierce of WTNH, shows the officer-involved shooting incident. In the video, a police car drove around the back of the suspected red Honda. While the initial movements of the car’s passengers were not shown in the video’s angle, within seconds of the car’s stopping, an officer leaves his car and begins shooting multiple times at the red car before running away.

Hundreds protest YPD involvement in shooting

Angela Xiao and Sammy Westfall​
Yale Daily News, April 19 2019

On Thursday, hundreds of Yalies, New Haven residents and activists demanded justice for Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon after Tuesday’s officer-involved shooting. The protest shut down major thoroughfare streets around the city for several hours as community members chanted and marched until midnight.

The rally, which began at 5 p.m. with a gathering of roughly 200 people, moved from outside of Woodbridge Hall toward Broadway, where even more participants congregated at the intersection of York and Elm streets before marching in a loop throughout the downtown area — gathering on M.L.K. Jr. Boulevard and outside of Yale on York before ultimately returning to Broadway.

The group chanted in unison as they walked down the New Haven streets: “Say her name. … Say his name.”

Early Tuesday morning in the neighborhood of Newhallville, a Yale and a Hamden police officer shot at Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, who were both unarmed. According to a Connecticut State Police press release, Washington was shot in the torso, while Witherspoon was not injured. Washington is currently stable. The incident is currently under state investigation.

Throughout the course of the night, the crowd grew to 500 students and community members, who joined together in a nonviolent protest in solidarity with Washington and Witherspoon. Attendees spoke, sang, chanted and passed around food as they sat and stood at street intersections from 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. As a result of the protests, the New Haven Police Department, who was not involved in Tuesday’s shooting, blocked the surrounding areas off to all traffic into the night.

“There is a larger context of state-sanctioned violence that we are in,” Kerry Ellington, a People Against Police Brutality community organizer, told the rally’s attendees early in the afternoon as they gathered on Wall Street outside of Woodbridge Hall. “[Washington and Witherspoon] did absolutely nothing wrong. And even if they did do something wrong, it still wouldn’t be cause for deprivation of their rights. Why is it okay?”