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Wethersfield Police Officer In Vega Cruz Shooting Death Resigns

This is a screen grab from one of three videos released by the chief state's attorney on Friday, May 3, 2019, depicting the moments after a police officer in Wethersfield, Conn., shot an 18-year-old driver after a traffic stop.
Office of the Chief State's Attorney
This is a screen grab from one of three videos released by the chief state's attorney on Friday, May 3, 2019, depicting the moments after a police officer in Wethersfield, Conn., shot an 18-year-old driver after a traffic stop.

The officer who shot and killed a Wethersfield teenager after an April 2019 traffic stop has voluntarily resigned from that town’s police department.

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Layau Eulizier Jr. resigned, effective April 15, 2020, according to Town Manager Gary Evans. Eulizier declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.

The news of the resignation left Melvin Medina, the public policy and advocacy director of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, underwhelmed.

“Holding this officer criminally responsible for shooting and killing Anthony, this officer being fired and removed from the Wethersfield police force and not allowed to be an officer in any other Connecticut law enforcement agency -- that to me is what justice is,” Medina said. “And I do believe that this falls short of justice.”

Eulizier was initially placed on administrative leave after the April 20, 2019, incident in which he fired multiple shots into the front windshield of a car driven by Anthony Jose Vega Cruz. The 18-year-old was gravely wounded and died two days later.

On March 18 of this year, Eulizier was cleared by a state prosecutor in the shooting death. In her decision, Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy said she found that Eulizier was “objectively reasonable” when he fatally shot Vega Cruz after the attempted traffic stop and brief chase in the Hartford suburb.

“Officer Eulizier discharged his firearm in fear that the operator was about to run him over and that he would lose his own life. His belief that deadly force was needed to defend himself and others from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force was objectively reasonable,” Hardy wrote.

But Medina believes the state of Connecticut has a problem evaluating use-of-force incidents and wants independent investigatory procedures to be instituted immediately by state lawmakers. He also believes that Eulizier’s exit does nothing to solve police accountability issues within the Wethersfield Police Department.

“It is still a department that is actively involved in racial profiling and has been year over year as reports have proven,” Medina said. “This is still a department that chose not to hold one of its own accountable despite a terrible shooting and killing of a young man.”

Medina references the fact that the department has been consistently flagged for significant racial disparities in its traffic stops by Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, a unit that works on behalf of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project. An IMRP analyst has said that Wethersfield’s police department is the only one out of 107 examined in the state that “consistently keeps appearing in the dataset.”

Wethersfield’s police chief has denied that his officers have engaged in any racial profiling. Wethersfield police did not respond to requests for comment.

The town’s police department also received criticism from town residents after Connecticut Public Radio uncovered a surveillance plan -- and a yet-to-be fulfilled promise to join up with Hartford police in a regional surveillance unit  -- involving the installation of 12 high-definition pan, tilt and zoom cameras on primary roads throughout the town.

“Officer Eulizier’s resignation from WPD does not solve the systemic problems in the department,” read a joint statement from Farah Assi Evenson, Megan Faver Hartline, Lindsey Jones and Kaci White, who are leaders within the Wethersfield Women for Progress, a group formed to fight inequality.

The group is calling on the department to make public union contracts and use-of-force policies. They also want the town to establish an independent citizen review board for police oversight.

The attorney for Vega Cruz’s family told Connecticut Public Radio shortly after the use-of-force report was issued in March that he was pursuing civil lawsuits against both Eulizier and the town of Wethersfield. Immediate efforts to reach that attorney were unsuccessful.

This post was updated.

Copyright 2020 Connecticut Public Radio

Frankie Graziano joined CPBN in October of 2011 as a sports producer. In addition to reporting for WNPR, Graziano produces feature profiles for CPTV and the web.
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