Mayor seeking input on new chief after police shooting

May 4, 2019

HAMDEN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut mayor is seeking public input in the search for a new police chief amid protests over a shooting involving two police officers who opened fire on an unarmed couple.

Hamden Mayor Curt Leng announced late Friday that he has formed a committee that will hold community discussions to see what residents want in a new chief. The first meeting is set for next week.

Longtime Deputy Chief John Cappiello has served as acting chief since Chief Thomas Wydra left last fall to take a job with the state Department of Labor.

The April 16 shooting in New Haven sparked several demonstrations and remains under investigation by state police and the New Haven state’s attorney’s office.

Authorities said Hamden officer Devin Eaton and Yale University officer Terrance Pollack stopped a car in New Haven while responding to a report of an attempted armed robbery at a Hamden gas station. Police said both officers opened fire when the driver got out of the car abruptly.

Police body camera video shows the driver, 21-year-old Paul Witherspoon III, trying to get out of the car and raise his hands. He told police he opened the car door because the window didn’t work.

Witherspoon’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Stephanie Washington, was shot but survived.

Authorities said no weapons were found in the car. Surveillance video from the gas station showed an argument between Witherspoon and another man but no attempted armed robbery.

Protesters including relatives of Witherspoon and Washington have called for the firing of both officers, who are on paid leave pending the investigation, and the arrest of the gas station attendant who called police.

Leng said the new committee’s work will include ensuring the police chief search attracts a pool of diverse, experienced applicants.

Demonstrators have called the shooting another unwarranted use of deadly force against unarmed black people. Both officers also are black.