Early release program questioned after officer-involved shooting - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Early release program questioned after officer-involved shooting

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K’waun Cole was arrested for an officer-involved shooting and attempted robbery at a grocery store in Hamden. (WFSB/Hamden police) K’waun Cole was arrested for an officer-involved shooting and attempted robbery at a grocery store in Hamden. (WFSB/Hamden police)

A local police officer survived a shoot-out with a suspect, but more details are emerging about the convicted felon who police say caused a large-scale manhunt.

While the suspect is back behind bars, some say it’s a place he never should have left. They say a state law known as the Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program is to blame.

Last Wednesday, glass windows were blown out by bullets, nearby evidence markers scattered throughout the parking lot of the Krauzer’s on State Street in Hamden, as state police investigators photographed the aftermath of a shootout last week.

"We believe that his intent at firing his weapon, especially at close proximity, to a uniformed police officer was to kill him,” said Hamden Police Chief Thomas Wydra.

Police say 31-year-old K'Waun Cole was trying to rob the convenience store when he exchanged gunfire with Hamden Police Officer Andre Pfeiffer.

Cole was captured after a massive manhunt.

Pfeiffer, a six-year veteran of the force, was unharmed.

"It's probably nothing short of a miracle when you consider how close in proximity they both were to each other as they were exchanging gunfire,” Wydra said.

This wasn't Cole’s first run-in with the law, not even close.

The New Haven native has a long rap sheet with a history of violence dating back to 2003, including convictions for first-degree assault and first-degree robbery.

In 2007, Cole was sentenced to 13 years in prison in connection with the shooting death of 17-year-old Carmelo Torres of New Haven.

"He is a convicted felon and based on his criminal history, he's been a dangerous and very violent person for more than a decade,” Wydra said.

That's why some are questioning why Cole was released from prison on Jan. 26, 2017 despite having an initial release date of May 10, 2020.

The statute governing the Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program, which was signed into law in 2011, required Cole to serve 85 percent of his sentence prior to being released to the community on supervised parole.

It also enabled Cole to receive exactly 402 risk reduction earned credits behind bars, which allowed him to be discharged from parole on Nov. 29 of last year, more than one year early.

“He was let loose right at the end of November so within 5 or 6 weeks he was returning to his life of crime and again it wasn't a petty crime. This was armed robbery we're talking about, a guy carrying a gun,” said State Senator Len Suzio.

Just two weeks before shooting at a Hamden police officer, Cole was arrested in New Haven for allegedly having bullets and drugs in his car.

His bond was set at just $2,500 and Cole was free within hours.

If he was still on parole, the Department of Correction could have put a detainer on him and remanded him back to custody.

“They just slapped him on the wrist and let him go back out in the public again with a small bail, despite the fact that he was in criminal possession of a firearm and had a lengthy prison record. It makes it all the more amazing,” Suzio said.

The Risk Reduction Earned Credit Program was implemented as an incentive to promote good behavior and program participation among offenders.

It enabled most prisoners to earn up to five days off their sentences a month.

But recently, the Department of Correction did take steps to refine the program.

Now, the highest risk offenders receive the least amount of credits, therefore serving longer sentences.

Also, inmates convicted of a total of eight crimes are now exempt from the program.

It was originally just six crimes -- murder, felony murder, arson murder, capital felony, aggravated sexual assault and home invasion, but some say that's just not enough, and there needs to be even more restrictions.

"It's been my contention for a long time, that violent criminals should not be eligible for early release. We owe it to the community. Our first responsibility as a legislature is to protect the citizens of our community from those who would prey upon them especially violent criminals who carry guns around and are engaged in armed robbery and have no reluctance to use their weapon,” Suzio said.

Senator Suzio and other outspoken critics of this program say there are major reasons to doubt the program's effectiveness at rehabilitating inmates. Cole is just one example.

"We are doing a disservice to the community and in my opinion, I think undersecretary Lawlor and the governor themselves bear personal responsibility for the victims of these crimes,” Suzio said.

Cole is behind bars on $1 million bond.

He's charged with three felonies -- attempt to commit murder, criminal possession of a pistol, and first-degree robbery.

Cole will be back in court next week.

As for Officer Pfeiffer, he has been placed on modified assignment in the building, but the chief says he'll be back out on the road in no time.

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