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Body and dash cameras were off during police shooting near Yale, officials say

Both Yale and Hamden police officers did not have their body cameras on April 16 when they opened fire during a traffic stop, wounding a New Haven woman, officials said Tuesday, but a recall function on the Hamden officer's camera captured images seconds before he fired his gun.

Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said the limited camera use went against policy and procedure after he released the short video in an unprecedented press conference held days after the shooting.

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The Hamden officer did not have his police vehicle camera on and turned on his body camera after shots were fired. However, the cameras have an ability to recall images several seconds before the camera is engaged, Rovella said.

"The (Hamden) officer should have turned on the body camera sooner. He turned it on while running down the street after firing," Rovella said.

The recall function does not have any audio. Rovella said they plan to have the video enhanced digitally.

Rovella, who oversees the state police, said no video was available from the Yale officer who had his body camera off at the time and whose police vehicle camera was also not on.

Rovella said the use of the cameras were inconsistent with both state policies and those of Police Officer Standard and Training Council.

The footage was released a week after the incident and breaks from long-standing state police procedure to withhold any video collected as evidence until the investigation is over.

"This is unheard of that we are putting it out so quickly," said Rovella at the afternoon press conference. He noted that New Haven State's Attorney Patrick Griffin is "very concerned trust and integrity in the community."

He added:"This is a difference in our operating procedures. Before, we did not show this until the investigation is over. "

Officials vowed last week that they would release footage that captures the shooting on Dixwell Avenue near Argyle Street in New Haven about 4 a.m. April 16 -- a step that activists and community members have been demanding in a series of protests across New Haven and Hamden since the incident.

Rovella, the former police chief in Hartford, pushed for transparency in officer-involved shootings in the city, releasing recordings to the community shortly after incidents. Following police shootings, department chiefs have said their hands are tied from releasing video or audio recordings after state police and the state's attorney take over the investigation.

The shooting in New Haven is being handled by state police Central District Major Crimes Squad detectives and New Haven State's Attorney Patrick Griffin.

Police officials said the officers had stopped a car they believed was connected to a reported armed robbery attempt in Hamden at a gas station on Arch Street.

After blocking in the car with their vehicles, state police said the two commanded the driver to open the door, who abruptly left his vehicle. The officers then opened fire, but missed the driver and hit a passenger in the car, 22-year-old Stephanie Washington. Washington was hospitalized with non-life threatening injures.

The driver, Paul Witherspoon III, was not injured. He was briefly detained but later released. His uncle told the Courant that Witherspoon had not attempted to rob a newspaper carrier at the gas station in Hamden, but rather gotten into a heated argument with the man.

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State police released a 911 call at 4:20 a.m. that initially alerted the police. The caller says Witherspoon pulled a sear on a newspaper carrier.

Rovella highlights that the call provides a description of Witherspoon, his car and that he was seen with a gun, which the 911 caller reported that he pulled on the newspaper carrier, the caller reports.Dispatchers then relay information out to Hamden officers after the 911 call to investigate the reported robbery.

Four minutes later they notify New Haven police via a radio hotline of a street robbery involving a gun and share the vehicle information: a 1999 Honda Civic, red, two door, along with the plate number. The dispatchers notify New Haven police that the vehicle was heading down Dixwell Avenue toward New Haven.

Rovella notes that Hamden police did not notify New Haven police that Hamden officers were entering the city.

At 4:26 a.m. and at 4:27 a.m., New Haven police then Yale police put out a be on the look out message to their officers about the vehicle.

The 911 call and subsequent radio transmission among departments mention a gun.

At 4:32 a.m., Hamden police Officer Devin Eaton reports shots fired on Argyle Street. Yale police Officer Terrance Pollock report shots fired at the same time.

Hamden Officer Devin Eaton and Yale Officer Terrance Pollock were both placed on leave as state police investigated the shooting. Both officers have not been interviewed by state police investigators.

"We don't have any good reports from the officer yet," Rovella said.

Rovella said no gun was found in any location connected to Witherspoon.

Rovella said it should take two to three months to complete the investigation.

"I have some concerns with this case not only from conception but also the completion of this incident," Rovella said. Despite calls from activists to bring in the FBI, Rovella said it is not necessary to involve federal investigators.

The incident, the first of two police shootings in five days in Connecticut, touched off a series of protests through Hamden and New Haven with hundreds calling for Yale and Hamden officials to fire the officers, release any and all video of the shooting, and conduct a transparent investigation that holds the officers criminally accountable.

No charges have been filed and the investigation remains on-going, officials said.

Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy was assigned to investigate an police shooting Saturday of a Wethersfield teen. The teen was killed. Hardy said Tuesday she plans to release footage of the incident if it does not compromise the investigation.

Hartford Courant staff writer Dave Altimari contributed to this story.

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