NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– New Haven Police are defending their use of force after an officer pulled a taser and a gun on a shoplifting suspect.
The department says the officer followed his training, but Black leaders in the city allege the officer used excessive force.
The body camera footage of the incident shows tense moments as Officer Christian Carfora confronts 50-year-old Robert Banks of West Haven for shoplifting $100 worth of clothing from Walmart. After a foot chase, the officer pulls his department-issued taser. When Banks reaches in his pockets and around his body, Carfora pulls out his gun.
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“What do you got there, bro?” he’s heard asking Banks.
Banks is head apologizing and saying he only took t-shirts, while reaching into his pockets.
Acting chief Renee Dominguez says the officer’s actions went through three layers of internal review.
“The use of the weapon and the taser in this situation was within the training guidelines,” said Dominguez, “The threat had increased because Mr. Banks was reaching in his pants in his shirt and not answering questions, not following commands.”
However, local civil rights leaders say the case is part of a national pattern of officers threatening to use deadly force against Black men accused of petty crimes.
“Shoplifting, you mean you get killed over shoplifting? You get killed over a $20 counterfeit bill?” said Rev. Boise Kimber of First Calvary Baptist Church.
“This man at Walmart did not think he would be encountered so aggressively by a police officer that day for merchandise worth less than a hundred,” said Rev. Steven Cousin, Jr., “Was that encounter necessary?
Clergy say the officer should have attempted to use other strategies.
“Mr. Banks had his hands in his pockets, multiple different pockets at once so I can imagine officers are trained to identify the worst-case scenarios. At the same time, it’s clear Mr. Banks was not in a good place, he was very anxious so I feel a lot of compassion for Mr. Banks, too,” said Mayor Justin Elicker.
The Mayor and Police Chief say they are engaged with city clergy on community policing and department training, but Black leaders say they want more involvement in determining department training policies.
Clergy say they plan to meet with the Chief next week.
The department is investigating the incident to review the officer’s use of force.