Recordings, documents detail New Britain police shootings

Published on Wednesday, 9 January 2019 20:50
Written by LISA BACKUS


NEW BRITAIN - Newly released documents and recordings show that city police followed Zoe Dowdell’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 car, on Dec. 14, 2017.

Less than 30 seconds later, officers can be heard yelling “Shots fired” and calling for medics as detectives and patrol officers tried to save Dowdell’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 Dowdell’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.

“It looks like they are casing the area,” one officer can be heard saying as police followed the car in an unmarked vehicle. “They just pulled up to a driveway on Church Street.”

The documents and recordings, which Dowdell’s family and community activists had been seeking for months, show police had identified the 20-year-old’s car the day before as the one involved in two carjacking attempts on Fairview Street and Kelsey Street on Dec. 11, 2017. The recordings reveal the conversation of officers as they followed the car, before boxing it in on Chapman Street.

Central Connecticut, 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 men, the documents said.

One of the men struck the victim in the head with a gun, the reports said. As the victim fled, he saw the men who had approached him leave in what he described as an older green vehicle resembling a Geo Storm.

Within minutes, detectives and patrol officers were investigating a second armed carjacking attempt on Fairview Street. In that case, a woman was approached by three or men, some of whom had guns. She got away by putting her car in reverse, causing her to hit the suspects’ vehicle, which she described as an older green car. While she fled, at least two of the suspects fired at her car, leaving two types of spent shell casings at the scene.

The two carjacking attempts occurred about three minutes apart, reports said.

At least one type of casing is believed to have been fired from one of the guns found in Dowdell’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 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 had hit while trying to flee.

On the night of Dec. 14, 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 on the east side of town.

“Marked units, stay back,” a voice can be heard saying.

“By now he’s probably seen our lights for a while,” the voice said. “He probably knows we’re here.”

By then, Dowdell was headed from Newington Avenue toward Chapman Street, which had few escape routes.

“We’re going to go block the road off on the other end,” a voice said. “He’s taking a left onto Chapman Court.”

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 car, put it in reverse and got hung up on an embankment, dashboard camera videos show. He broke free after getting hit by a marked cruiser whose driver was trying to block his escape.

He managed to wheel the car around while officers with their guns drawn were yelling “Stop.” Dowdell nearly hit two officers as he drove the car onto the sidewalk and around a utility pole. Five officers, including the two who had nearly been hit, fired 28 shots as the car continued on until it hit a pickup truck.

Police Chief James Wardwell requested that city attorneys release the recordings and reports after Fairfield State’s Attorney John Smriga announced last week that he had concluded the five officers had been justified in their use of deadly force.

Dowdell’s mother has filed a $6.5 million civil rights lawsuit against the city. Tisdol has been charged with several robberies and carjackings 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

Posted in New Britain Herald, New Britain on Wednesday, 9 January 2019 20:50. Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2019 20:52.