Five New Britain police officers fired at a vehicle suspected of being involved in a series of violent carjackings and robberies, killing the 20-year-old driver and wounding the two teen passengers, police said Monday.
Police Chief James Wardwell identified the lawmen involved in the fatal shooting as Detectives Marcin Ratajczak and Christopher Kiely, and Officers Michael Slavin, Kyle Jones and Chad Nelson.
“The New Britain Police Department is committed to holding itself accountable to the community we serve and in doing so supports a thorough and transparent investigation,” he said in an email. “In line with this the department identifies the officers who discharged their firearms during the incident in the area of Chapman Street and Chapman Court on Dec. 14.”
Zoe Dowdell, 20, an aspiring rapper from Bloomfield who called himself “Gangstalicious,” died in the shooting. He had built a substantial following on YouTube, an attorney who knew him said Sunday.
Hartford attorney Wesley Spears said he was shocked to learn how Dowdell had died. Dowdell was behind the wheel of a car suspected in multiple carjackings and robberies when he struck police vehicles and drove toward officers in an attempt to flee as they tried to stop him, police have said. Officers opened fire, killing Dowdell and wounding 18-year-old and 15-year-old passengers.
Spears represented Dowdell’s co-defendant in two criminal cases and recently represented an entertainment management company that was considering signing Dowdell to a contract, he said.
Late Sunday afternoon an impromptu vigil was held on the sidewalk outside the Lyceum on Lawrence Street in Hartford, near where Dowdell lived just before his death, according to a mourner.
About two dozen people stood in small groups, talking quietly. A young woman wrapped in a blanket cried as another woman held her. Twenty lit candles and a box of tissues sat atop a small metal table. A handful of balloons were tied to a wrought iron fence.
Rayshawn Phillips, who attended Bloomfield High School with Dowdell, was among those who went to pay his respects to his friend.
“We’re all feeling the same pain, so we might as well feel it together,” Phillips said.
Philips said there was never a dull moment around Dowdell and that he always welcomed people to be in his videos.
Dowdell, Phillips said, visited him last month at American International College. It was the last time he saw him.
“He was dealing with the law a lot,” Phillips said. “I told him to stick with his music, go through what you’re going through and gain wisdom and you’ll bounce back harder.”
The two criminal cases where Spears had run across Dowdell included an incident at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Wethersfield where he and a friend, who Spears represented, were arrested after they jumped up on the counter to film a viral video and another case where the two men stole credit cards out of unlocked cars and used them to make purchases.
Glastonbury police used a clever ruse to arrest Dowdell on the credit card charges: A detective pretended to be a record producer and set up a meeting with Dowdell where he was taken into custody.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of harsh criminals,” Spears said. “He was not a hardened criminal. He was very lightweight in terms of being forceful or aggressive.”
But Spears said Dowdell “associated himself to a certain extent with the wrong people,” so while he doesn’t believe Dowdell participated in the carjackings or robberies, he understands how he may have wound up driving the wanted car.
Spears was critical of the police response Thursday night in New Britain after officers spotted the vehicle. The young men should not have tried to flee police, he said, but he questioned whether the officers’ lives were in danger to the point where they had to open fire on the car.
“They shot at three kids,” he said. “It’s totally ridiculous and unnecessary.”
On social media, condolences poured in for Dowdell.
Shaquille Lee, a friend of Dowdell’s from Glastonbury who described himself on his Facebook page as one of his managers, spent most of the weekend sharing photographs and YouTube videos of Dowdell.
“He was the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life,” Lee said in a video posted on his Facebook page Friday night. “He always had my back. … Zoe’s my boy, period. … This ... is so upsetting I don’t know how to feel right now.”
“I really lost my best friend,” Lee said.
A tribute concert is being planned for Jan. 13 at the West Indian Social Club in Hartford with Lud Foe, a rapper from Chicago.
Noah Young, the 18-year-old who was in the car, suffered graze wounds and was treated and released from the hospital into police custody. The 15-year-old, who was not named, was shot in the leg. Both teens face numerous charges; police recovered drugs and a pistol from the car. Young told police he knew nothing about the gun in the car or the recent carjackings.
A state police investigation into the shooting is ongoing. It is being overseen by Peter McShane, the Middlesex County state’s attorney. New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said the city police officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Courant Staff Writer Christine Dempsey contributed to this story.