Courtesy of Hamden Police
Screenshots of the body camera footage from Hamden police officer Devin Eaton recorded on April 16, 2019 during an officer-involved shooting in New Haven near Dixwell Avenue (Courtesy of Hamden Police)

As of Oct. 1, police departments involved in a deadly shooting must release any video footage of the incident within 96 hours, according to a new law signed by Gov. Ned Lamont last week.

The new law paves the way for more police accountability after several dramatic shootings that sparked protests and calls for legislation.

The bill, SB 380, passed the House within the final hours of the session June 5 after a three-hour debate when Republican legislators peppered Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D- Bridgeport, with questions about how the law would impact police officers who faced life-and-death situations.

The law which largely goes into effect Oct. 1, requires police departments to release any body- or dash-camera footage of a deadly police-involved shooting within 48 hours of the officers involved viewing the video or within 96 hours of the incident, whichever comes first.

The law also requires the Chief State’s Attorney to assign investigations into non-lethal use of force by police to another state’s attorney outside of the jurisdiction of where it occurred. Investigations into deadly use of force incidents are already assigned to a different state’s attorney outside the jurisdiction of where the incident occurred.

The final version of the bill was a collaborative effort between legislative leaders, the Division of Criminal Justice, the Connecticut Association of Police Chiefs, and police departments from around the state, said Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.

“I think there was an effort to work together to come up with language that involved compromises,” Kane said. “I think everyone is satisfied. There are a lot of good ideas in this bill.”

But some say the legislation didn’t go far enough in requiring police departments to be more transparent.

“It’s a good starting point,” said Brian Foley, executive aide to James Rovella, the Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection that includes the state’s largest police force — the Connecticut State Police.

“We’re pleased it was passed,” Foley said. “We will look to build upon it in the coming years as we believe it could be stronger.”

Rovella or his designee will be one of the members of a task force created by the new law reviewing police transparency and accountability. The new law will also require the state police and the Post Officer Standards and Training Council to review police chase policies as well.

Overall the law paves the way to reshape police policy when it comes to being more transparent during investigations into deadly or potentially deadly incidents involving officers.

Currently, state officials have no accurate data on the number of times police officers throughout the state use potentially deadly force that does not result in a death, Kane said.

“We don’t have a good idea of the frequency that occurs,” Kane said.

Under the new law Kane’s office will be required to release information about fatal police shootings within five days of the determination of the cause of death. “With the length of time these investigations take we do need to release more information to the public while the investigations are on-going,” Kane said. “And we need to find ways to do that that don’t impact the investigation or the truth.”

Calls for a review of policies regarding the investigation into deadly police shootings began a few years ago after several high profile cases that drew protests. The investigations into a police-involved death are done by the state police and then any evidence gathered is turned over to a state’s attorney for review. At times the process has taken years. Meanwhile, no information — including any camera footage — was released.

At the start of the session New Britain area legislators proposed at least three bills seeking to shorten the process after a 13-month investigation into the shooting death of a 20-year-old aspiring performer in New Britain. The bills died in committee but the final version that passed was sparked by two police-involved shootings that occurred in New Haven and Hamden during a one-week period in April.

Paul Witherspoon told investigators he was unarmed and was getting out of his car with his hands up April 16 as Hamden officer Devin Eaton and Yale University officer Terrance Pollock opened fire. Eaton fired 13 bullets, striking and wounding Witherspoon’s passenger, Stephanie Washington. Witherspoon has not been charged with any crimes.

Less than a week later, Wethersfield officer Layau Eulizier shot 18-year-old Anthony Jose Vega Cruz, known as “Chulo” as the teen tried to avoid being pulled over for a license plate violation. Vega Cruz died a few days later.

The dash-camera video of Vega Cruz’s shooting released a few weeks later showed Eulizier running in front of the 18-year-old’s vehicle and firing shots inside as Cruz tried to flee.

The new law prohibits officers from placing themselves in front of a fleeing vehicle unless there is a risk of death to a person is imminent. State police released an announcement earlier this week saying evidence in those cases and a third police-involved shooting will be turned over to the various state’s attorneys reviewing the incidents within two weeks.

Videos gathered during the investigation of both shootings were released within days. It was a dramatic change in policy compared to the release of information in the police shooting of Zoe Dowdell in New Britain which took 13 months.