NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A former Hamden police officer who opened fire at an unarmed couple’s car in 2019, wounding a woman and another officer in New Haven, was sentenced Friday to probation and community service.
The sentence imposed on former Hamden Officer Devin Eaton did not sit well with Stephanie Washington, who was 22 when she was struck by multiple bullets fired by Eaton and suffered serious injuries including a fractured pelvis and spine. Eaton fired his gun a total of 13 times.
“What does justice look like?” she said outside the courthouse, according to Connecticut Public Radio.
Black community leaders who had protested the shooting were upset and surprised by the sentence. Eaton and the couple in the car were all Black. Prosecutors had sought prison time for Eaton.
“I believe that is a form of total injustice,” the Rev. Dr. Boise Kimber, senior pastor at First Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday.
“We are in denial as a country about gun violence,” he said. “Black people are being killed by police officers and now people and babies are being killed by white supremacists. What a denial today. This judge is really sending a message to the Black community.”
Eaton, who resigned from the police force in January, apologized to Washington during the sentencing before New Haven Superior Court Judge Brian Fischer. Eaton pleaded no contest to felony assault in January and agreed to serve up to 18 months in prison, while retaining the right to argue for less or no prison time during the sentencing, which his lawyer did.
Fischer sentenced Eaton to three years of probation and 450 hours of community service. A message seeking comment from Fischer was left with a Judicial Branch spokesperson.
Eaton’s attorney, Gregory Cerritelli, said Eaton believed, because of information relayed by a dispatcher, that an armed suspect in an attempted robbery was in the car he stopped and was forced to make a split-second decision to use deadly force when the driver began getting out of the vehicle. Cerritelli believes Eaton’s use of deadly force was appropriate.
“Devin Eaton is not Derek Chauvin,” Cerritelli told the AP, referring to the former Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd in 2020. “There’s no racial component to this at all. Everyone involved in this case was African American. … This is not a rogue, malicious police officer who engages in gratuitous acts of violence.”
Eaton stopped the couple’s car in New Haven on April 16, 2019, because it matched the description of a car linked to a reported attempted armed robbery in Hamden, police said. Washington’s boyfriend, Paul Witherspoon III, was driving and Washington was in the passenger seat.
A gas station clerk had called in the attempted armed robbery but later told police he had not seen a gun. Surveillance video shows Witherspoon appearing to argue with another man but not robbing him.
Eaton’s body camera video shows Witherspoon starting to exit the car and appearing to raise his hands when Eaton begins shooting. Witherspoon then quickly gets back into the vehicle. He was not injured.
A Yale University officer, Terrance Pollock, responded to the traffic stop and fired his gun three times at the car. But New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin said in his investigative report of the shooting that Pollock was justified because he believed Eaton and Witherspoon were exchanging gunfire.
Pollock suffered a graze wound from a bullet fired by Eaton, officials said.
Griffin determined Eaton’s use of deadly force was not justified and the officer was charged with assault and reckless endangerment.