Yale University Police Officer Shoots Unarmed Black Woman in the Face

Two police officers were placed on administrative leave after shooting an unarmed Black woman in a car on April 16. Stephanie Washington, 22, was shot in the face in New Haven, Connecticut after an officer from the town of Hamden and a Yale University officer fired shots at her boyfriend’s car, ABC News reported.

The shooting occurred early Tuesday morning after Hamden police responded to a call of an attempted robbery at a gas station, authorities told the news station. The red Honda Civic belonging to Washington’s boyfriend, Paul Witherspoon III, matched the description of the car involved in the attempted robbery. In a video obtained by WTNH, the officers are seen firing at Witherspoon’s car, with him and Washington inside, on Argyle Street. Neither Witherspoon or Washington was armed, authorities told ABC News. Police initially stated that Witherspoon had stepped out of the vehicle, but the video contradicts their statement.

Witherspoon told WTNH that he had no injuries, but Washington was rushed to a nearby hospital and is expected to survive. The officers have been identified as Hamden Police Department Officer Devin Eaton and Terrance Pollock of the Yale University Police Department, ABC wrote. Pollock, a university police department veteran, was reportedly hit by gunfire during the incident, though it’s unclear whether the bullet was fired by Eaton or if the bullet had ricocheted from his own gun, ABC reported. The two have been placed on administrative leave as the Connecticut State Police and the Connecticut State Attorney’s Office continue to investigate the matter, the news station reported.

Protests have erupted demanding justice for Washington, WFSB reported. On Wednesday, Yale University President Peter Salovey released a statement noting that the university was cooperating with authorities and called onto the Yale and New Haven communities to treat one another “with respect and decency, and with a sense of common purpose.”

“Our relief that the young woman who was shot did not suffer life-threatening injuries must not signal closure, but rather an opening: now is the time for all of us — city residents, their elected leaders, community organizers, and the Yale community — to come together,” the statement read. “I and other Yale leaders and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp are in close touch, as are the Yale and New Haven Police Departments. I know we can work together to make our beloved city safe for all.”

Yale’s Black Student Alliance posted a statement on Facebook on Wednesday, stating they stand behind Washington and Witherspoon. The group said it wants the university and its officials to be held responsible for the incident. “We demand that the University is held accountable for failing to protect both its Black students, and the larger New Haven community to which we, and all of its affiliates, belong. We will not tolerate the blatant criminalization and dehumanization of Black and Brown people by those of the University who are granted the privilege of serving our communities,” the statement read.

The statement added that the shooting “is not an isolated incident of the blatant disregard for the wellbeing of Black people” at Yale. “A precedent must be set challenging this legacy of wrongdoing beginning with Yale being held accountable for its actions, and the demilitarization of its police force.”

Micah Awodiran, a Yale student of the class of 2021, told The North Star that the university must work with community leaders to make sure students of color can feel safe on campus again. “Biases about this city and its people are very commonplace at Yale, students are taught to fear the citizens who were here long before us,” Awodiran said. “The safer the Black citizens of New Haven are in their own city, the safer Yale’s Black students and faculty will be.”

An online petition demanding that the officers involved be terminated has garnered over 13,600 supporters as of Monday. The petition “demands that Yale fire the policeman, disarm all other officers, make public the investigation and make a financial contribution to Black Lives Matter Global Network ‘in opposition to state-sanctioned violence’ against Black communities.”

As members of the community wait to view body camera footage of the shooting, authorities obtained a search warrant for Witherspoon’s car on Monday, The New Haven Register reported.

“A search and examination of the vehicle will aid in the discovery of evidence that will further assist their ongoing investigation," the New Haven Division of Criminal Justice said in a statement. "State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin has additionally authorized the release of body camera footage, which will be available this week.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.