NEW BRITAIN – The state Freedom of Information Commission has denied the parents of Zoe Dowdell access to the dash cam videos and other evidence gathered the night he was shot by New Britain police.
In a ruling released Tuesday, the commission sited the testimony of Fairfield State’s Attorney John Smriga who said releasing the information could impact his investigation into the use of police force.
Dowdell was killed the night of Dec. 14 after state police said he drove at officers on foot who were trying to take him and two others into custody. Police were looking for Dowdell’s car that night because they believed it had been involved in a serious of violent armed robberies that had plagued the city in the days and weeks before the police shooting.
Caleb Tisdol, 15, and Noah Young, 18, were also shot but not seriously injured. Tisdol and Young are being held on bond after being charged with robberies. Tisdol’s parents have seen at least snippets of the dash cam videos because his defense attorney was supplied the evidence as part of the pending robbery charges.
Dowdell’s parents, Shawn Dowdell and Sherene Fagon, filed separate FOI complaints when they were denied access to the dash cam videos from the shooting. The city also denied releasing 911 calls, reports and any other evidence related to the shootings on the grounds the release could prejudice Smriga’s investigation.
His client has not seen the videos, said Fagon’s attorney Gerald Sack who is representing her in a $6.5 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city of New Britain in her son’s death. The denial of any information related to the case is stalling the lawsuit, Sack said.
“It is impossible for us to proceed with the civil case,” Sack said Wednesday. “We can’t take depositions, it’s a bad situation.”
The parents of all three men have been vocal in asking for the release of the videos and information regarding the case. Smriga was handed the use of force investigation in April after the previous state’s attorney handling the investigation was appointed to a judgeship.
Smriga told FOI officials during an Oct. 31 hearing on the Dowdell family complaint that he had not yet reviewed all the evidence regarding the police shootings. Mayor Erin Stewart sent Smriga a letter this week asking him to take into consideration the families and the community when conducting the investigation which has spanned nearly a year.
“We all want the people we care for to have answers and to have the ability to take the next step – whatever that may be,” Stewart said in the letter. “In order for the healing process to begin we must have those answers.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.