NEW BRITAIN - Activists from around the state will be gathering Jan. 26 to protest a decision by an independent state’s attorney to not charge five police officers who fired on a carload of men, killing Zoe Dowdell and wounding two others last December.
The protest is set for outside the New Britain Police Department at 11 a.m., said Hartford community activist Cornell Lewis. “We’re asking activists from all over to show up and protest,” Lewis said.
Fairfield State’s Attorney John Smriga concluded in a report released Thursday that the officers were justified in using deadly force while trying to take Dowdell and two others into custody. The families of the two men who were wounded, Caleb Tisdol, 16, and Noah Young, 19, were vocal during a press conference Saturday in expressing their outage at Smriga’s findings. Dowdell’s family did not attend. His mother has filed a $6.5 million civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Lewis, who started a group called the “Self Defense Brigade” to highlight issues of racial injustice and police brutality toward people of color, and Hartford-based activist Bishop John Selders, who founded Moral Monday Connecticut, are hosting the protest. Similar events demanding the release of the dash camera videos of the shootings drew dozens of people from outside New Britain. Local minority leaders have remained supportive of city police since the shootings occurred on Dec. 14, 2017.
The local chapter of the NAACP and local ministers will be invited to the Jan. 26 protest, Lewis said. “Hopefully this will wake them up from their Rip Van Winkle-like slumber,” Lewis said.
Police were looking for Dowdell’s green Toyota Paseo the night of Dec. 14, 2017, believing the car was involved in four violent armed carjackings or carjacking attempts in the days and weeks before the shootings. The car was spotted on Newington Avenue and followed to Chapman Street where marked and unmarked police vehicles tried to box the Toyota in.
Dash camera videos from two marked cruisers show a chaotic scene with police cars hitting the Toyota as the driver tried to flee by driving up onto the sidewalk and around a utility pole. Two officers in Dowdell’s path were able to get out of the way and fire three shots each. Another two officers kept firing as the car was headed away. A third officer fired two shots.
The five New Britain officers, who fired a total of 28 shots at the vehicle, have been on restricted duty for a year. Dowdell was struck in the back of the head, the back of the neck and the legs. He was pronounced dead a short while after he was brought to St. Francis Hospital. Caleb Tisdol, who was 15 at the time, was shot in the leg and Young, who was 18 at the time, ducked in the back seat and was grazed by a bullet. Two guns were found in the car, one of which was loaded, when state police searched the vehicle as part of the investigation.
Tisdol was later charged with committing several robberies in surrounding towns that occurred in the weeks before the shootings. He and Young were also charged with committing a New Britain robbery. Both have been held on bond since their initial arrest immediately after they were taken into custody.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.