NEW BRITAIN â€“ Newly released documents and recordings show city police followed Zoe Dowdellâ€™s green Toyota Paseo for about six minutes as it snaked through the east side of town before taking a left onto Chapman Street where officers tried to stop the vehicle on the night of Dec. 14, 2017.
Less than 30 seconds later, officers can be heard yelling â€śshots firedâ€ť and calling for medics as detectives and patrol officers tried to save Dowdellâ€™s life and give aid to 15-year-old Caleb Tisdol who had been shot in the leg. Dowdell, 20, died at St. Francis Hospital about two hours later, the reports said. Tisdol, and Noah Young, the other two occupants of Dowdellâ€™s car have been held on bond for more than a year. The five officers who fired their weapons that night have been on restricted duty since the shootings.
â€śIt looks like they are casing the area,â€ť one officer can be heard saying as police followed the car in an unmarked vehicle. â€śThey just pulled up to a driveway on Church Street.â€ť
The documents and recordings, which Dowdellâ€™s family and community activists had been seeking for months, show police had identified the 20-year-oldâ€™s car the day before as the one involved in two carjacking attempts on Fairview Street and on Kelsey Street on Dec. 11, 2017. The recordings reveal the conversation of officers as they followed the car, which eventually took a left onto Chapman Street where a decision was made to box the Toyota in.
The central Connecticut area, including New Britain, had been plagued with violent, armed carjacking-style robberies in the weeks leading up to the shootings, several officers who submitted reports said. On Dec.11, a man reported he had been sitting in his car with the engine running in the driveway of a Kelsey Street address when he was approached by four or five males, the documents said.
One of the men struck the victim in the head with a gun, the reports said. As the male victim fled, he saw the men who had approached him leave in what he described as an older green Geo Storm-type vehicle.
Within minutes, detectives and patrol officers were investigating a second armed carjacking attempt on Fairview Street. In that case, a female victim was approached by three or men, some of whom had guns. She got away by putting her car in reverse, causing her to collide with the suspectâ€™s vehicle, which she described as an older green car. While she fled, at least two of the suspects fired at her car, leaving two different types of spent shell casings at the scene. The two carjacking attempts occurred about three minutes apart, reports said.
At least one type of shell casing is believed to have been fired from one of the guns found in Dowdellâ€™s car after he was shot by police while trying to flee three days later.
Officers were on the lookout for the green car with fresh damage from the Fairview Street carjacking attempt in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, the reports said. It was spotted by officers and photographed unoccupied on Clark Street. The victim of the carjacking attempt on Fairview Street identified the car as the one she struck while trying to flee.
The night of Dec. 14, 2017, several officers were on their way to an unrelated drug investigation when the green Paseo with New Hampshire plates was seen on Chestnut Street. They decided to follow the car as it got onto East Street, Church Street, and other streets leading to Newington Avenue in the east side of town. â€śMarked units, stay back,â€ť a voice can be heard saying.
â€śBy now heâ€™s probably seen our lights for a while,â€ť the voice said. â€śHe probably knows weâ€™re here.â€ť
By then, Dowdell was headed from Newington Avenue toward Chapman Street, which had few escape routes out. â€śWeâ€™re going to go block the road off on the other end,â€ť a voice said. â€śHeâ€™s taking a left onto Chapman Court.â€ť
At that point several marked and unmarked vehicles converged on Chapman Street and Chapman Court, in an attempt to box Dowdell in. He tried to flee after his car was struck by an unmarked vehicle, put it in reverse and got hung up on an embankment, dash camera videos show. He broke free after getting hit by a marked cruiser whose driver was trying to block Dowdellâ€™s escape.
He managed to wheel the car around while officers with their guns drawn were yelling â€śstop.â€ť Dowdell nearly hit two officers as he droved the car up onto the sidewalk and around a utility pole. Five officers, including the two who had nearly been hit, fired a total of 28 shots as the car continued on until it struck a pickup truck.
Police Chief James Wardwell requested that city attorneys release the recordings and reports after the Fairfield Stateâ€™s Attorney John Smriga announced last week that he had concluded the five officers were justified in their use of deadly force. Dowdellâ€™s mother has filed a $6.5 million civil rights lawsuit against the city. Tisdol has been charged with several robberies and carjackings that occurred in central Connecticut in the weeks before the shootings. Young has also been charged with committing a robbery in New Britain. Those cases are pending.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.