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CT needs to 'reevaluate' reforms after man attacks officer with hammer, Middletown officials say

A screenshot from the body camera of police Detective Karli Travis shows her extended left arm as Winston Tate advances on her while holding a hammer. Travis was knocked to the ground and discharged her firearm (right) multiple times. Both Tate and Travis were treated and released from the hospital for injuries sustained during the confrontation.
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Office of Inspector General
A screenshot from the body camera of police Detective Karli Travis shows her extended left arm as Winston Tate advances on her while holding a hammer. Travis was knocked to the ground and discharged her firearm (right) multiple times. Both Tate and Travis were treated and released from the hospital for injuries sustained during the confrontation.

Middletown's police chief says the state's criminal justice system isn't working and it almost cost an officer her life this weekend.

Body camera footage released by Connecticut’s Office of Inspector General shows police Detective Karli Travis being attacked by a man with a hammer on Aug. 12 before she fires her gun several times.

The suspect in the attack, Winston Tate, has been previously charged with other violent crimes and is currently on probation for robbery, Middletown Police Chief Erik Costa said.

"This incident … underscores the urgent need for our state leaders to reevaluate and improve our legal processes and programs that ensure safer communities," Costa said Tuesday at a press conference.

Body camera video begins with Travis walking down Liberty Street, on her way to respond to a noise complaint, when she sees a man holding a hammer coming toward her.

“Can you put that down, please?” Travis asks, as Tate continues to approach.

“What?” Tate yells, before he speeds up to a run.

Travis repeats herself and calls into her radio for backup.

“Call your [expletive] team!” Tate yells as he brandishes the hammer.

Travis repeatedly tells Tate to stop and the camera falls off Travis as Tate appears to hit her repeatedly with the hammer. She fires several shots, the video shows.

Tate was arrested by responding officers and briefly hospitalized for his injuries. Travis was also hospitalized and later released, officials said.

“There is no question that Detective Travis displayed an extreme act of heroism that saved her own life, the lives of other Middletown police officers and the citizens of this city,” Costa said.

Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim applauded what he called the good training of the city’s police force in de-escalating a violent encounter without using lethal force.

Florsheim, a Democrat, said it was a tragic moment, but that if people are going to be released from custody, proper support must be in place to ensure they can return to the community safely.

More than 95% of the people incarcerated in Connecticut have a history of mental illness, substance misuse or both, according to a report released this year by the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, an independent state criminal justice research agency. The report says the state’s efforts to deinstitutionalize people with mental health issues without properly funding community services, effectively funnels people into shelters or prisons.

“We are undoing the failures of the past,” Florsheim said, “but not replacing them with more effective strategies that can keep communities safer in a more effective way.”

Tate appeared in court on Tuesday and remains in custody. He is facing several assault charges.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.
Cassandra Basler oversees Connecticut Public’s flagship daily news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She’s also an editor of the station’s limited series podcast, 'In Absentia' and producer of the five-part podcast Unforgotten: Connecticut’s Hidden History of Slavery.

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