Community leaders Monday called for the release of video from a fatal shooting by police in New Britain last week that left a 20-year-old man dead and two teens injured. City officials have said they were told not to do so.
“If there’s video, it should be shown,” said Ronald Davis, president of the New Britain NAACP.
David McGuire, president of the Connecticut chapter of the ACLU, said: “The release of the video would not undermine the investigation. The reality is that this is a very, very serious use of force that resulted in multiple injuries and the death of a young person and the public deserves answers.”
The Courant has requested a copy of any video or 911 calls from the shooting, which happened Thursday evening after officers spotted a car that was wanted in connection with multiple carjackings and robberies in the city. When the driver, Zoe Dowdell, tried to speed away from the scene, he drove toward officers, police have said, and they opened fire. Dowdell was killed.
An attorney for the city of New Britain said the city had been instructed not to release the information by the office of Middlesex County State’s Attorney Peter McShane, who is overseeing a state police investigation into the shooting.
New Britain Police Chief Jim Wardwell on Monday released the names of the five officers who shot at the car. They are: Detective Marcin Ratajczak, Detective Christopher Kiely, Officer Michael Slavin, Officer Kyle Jones and Officer Chad Nelson. All five have been placed on desk duty while the investigation continues.
“The New Britain Police Department is committed to holding itself accountable to the community we serve and in doing so, support a thorough and transparent investigation,” Wardwell said.
McGuire said use-of-force investigations can take years to complete. In some cases, he said, releasing video footage can help to put the community at ease if the officers acted appropriately.
“Even if police do not have ill intentions when withholding this kind of information, the public is asking for it creates questions: What are they hiding? Why are they not letting us see it? It really undermines the public’s confidence and trust in law enforcement.”
When he advocated for expanding the use of body cameras on police officers, McGuire said, he has run into naysayers who believe videos will be released only if they paint officers in a positive light.
“There needs to be strong policies in place that require the public release of footage within a reasonable time,” he said.
Davis, the local NAACP president, said he was contacted about the shooting within hours and has been kept apprised of the investigation by police. He said it is too early to place blame.
“We’ll wait for a final report and look at the report to see where the fault lies,” he said. “It’s sad to see a life taken and we don’t want this to happen in our community. … There’s more work for our community in terms of working with our kids on what to do when police give an order.”
Davis said he would be interested to learn the version of events from the two teens who were in the car with Dowdell, who was an aspiring rapper from Bloomfield.
“We will be able to hear from the two other young men as to what happened in their view,” he said. “That’s important.”
The two teenage passengers, one 18 and one 15, face numerous charges; police recovered drugs and a pistol from the car, police reports said. Noah Young, the 18-year-old, told police he knew nothing about the gun in the car or the recent carjackings.
Dowdell had developed a following on YouTube, where he called himself “Gangastalicious” and posted numerous music videos, his latest a week ago. One of the videos had attracted more than 100,000 views.
About two dozen people came to Lawrence Street in Hartford for a vigil Sunday night for Dowdell.
A tribute concert is being planned for Jan. 13 at the West Indian Social Club in Hartford with Lud Foe, a rapper from Chicago.
Hartford Deputy Chief Brian Foley said Tuesday that one of the capital city’s recent carjacking cases might be connected to the New Britain cases. A detective from Hartford’s Major Crimes Division has been assigned to assist New Britain, Foley said.
Courant staff writers Christine Dempsey and Greg Hladky contributed to this story.