Lawyer: Officer thought man had gun when shooting at couple

May 7, 2019

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut police officer under investigation for shooting 13 times at an unarmed couple in a car last month believed the driver was shooting at him, the officer’s attorney said Tuesday.

Hamden Officer Devin Eaton did not know that another officer had arrived at the scene and also opened fire at the car, said Elliot Spector, Eaton’s lawyer. Eaton believed the other gunshots he heard, which came from the other officer, were fired by the driver, Spector said.

Authorities said Eaton and Yale University Officer Terrance Pollack stopped the car in New Haven on April 16 while investigating a reported attempted armed robbery in Hamden. The car matched the description of the one involved in the attempted robbery, and Eaton found it in New Haven. Both officers fired their guns when, police said, the driver got out of the vehicle abruptly.

“He earnestly believed that this guy had a gun,” Spector said in the first public comments on Eaton’s behalf. “The officer did know for sure that this was the car involved in the robbery.”

Eaton’s body camera recording shows the driver, Paul Witherspoon III, who was not injured, getting out of the car and appearing to raise his hands as if to surrender when the officer began shooting. Witherspoon told authorities he opened the car door because the window did not work.

Eaton fired a few shots at the driver’s side, then ran to the other side and opened fire again, blowing out the passenger-side windows. He did not know Pollack was there until after he stopped shooting, Spector said.

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

The shooting sparked several protests in Hamden and at Yale.