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'Self-Defense': In Resignation Letter, Wethersfield Officer Blames Teenager He Shot

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.

In his resignation letter submitted to the Wethersfield Police Department, Layau Eulizier Jr. wrote that he never thought the day he shot and killed 18-year-old Anthony Jose Vega Cruz would be his last on active patrol in Wethersfield.

“I also never expected and cannot understand why Mr. Cruz decided to drive toward me causing me to use deadly force in self-defense," Eulizier wrote in the letter, seen by Connecticut Public Radio this week. 

Eulizier resigned from the Wethersfield Police Department, effective April 15, nearly a year after he shot Vega Cruz.

Previously released dashcam video shows that after Vega Cruz sped away from a traffic stop initiated by a different officer on Silas Deane Highway on April 20, 2019, a pursuit ensued. Less than a quarter-mile up the road, Eulizier joined the brief, high-speed chase and soon collided head-on with Vega Cruz’s Infiniti on the edge of a strip mall parking lot. The officer who tried to stop Vega Cruz -- Peter Salvatore -- caught up to the Infiniti in a police SUV and hit it on the driver’s side.

According to the video -- and surveillance footage also released by the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney -- Eulizier then ran out of his vehicle and placed himself, gun drawn, in front of Vega Cruz’s moving vehicle, firing multiple shots into the front windshield. Vega Cruz was gravely wounded and died two days later.

Connecticut Public Radio has learned from Eulizier’s attorney that he’s training for EMT certification. But in his letter, Eulizier indicates he hopes to return to law enforcement.

“I have made the difficult decision to resign from my position as police officer for the town of Wethersfield and focus on my master’s degree in order to strengthen my skills and hopefully continue a career in law enforcement elsewhere,” Eulizier said.

Speaking to Connecticut Public Radio Tuesday, Melvin Medina, public policy and advocacy director of Connecticut’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, said Eulizier should never again be hired by a local law enforcement agency. He said Eulizier’s resignation is not enough.

“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.”

Medina also cited Eulizier’s behavior before he worked in Wethersfield -- when he was a Manchester police officer -- as a reason to keep him away from law enforcement. A training officer deemed some of Eulizier’s tactics in a December 2017 traffic stop “inappropriate.” In that incident, captured via a dashcam, Eulizier is seen approaching a stopped car to attempt to open the driver’s door with his gun drawn.

“Eulizier’s handgun comes within inches of entering the driver’s compartment where the driver is sitting,” a December 2017 memo said. “This action creates an unnecessary risk of the officer losing control of his firearm ...”

Credit Manchester Police Department
Manchester Police Department
A dashcam video shows Layau Eulizier Jr. (left) during a December 2017 traffic stop in which Eulizier approached a stopped car and attempted to open the driver's door with his gun drawn.

The lawyer for the family of Vega Cruz, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, has criticized the town for hiring Eulizier despite the concerns from supervisors at his previous police department.

Connecticut Public Radio reached out to Crump after finding out about the resignation, but he’s yet to respond. He previously told Connecticut Public Radio that he was pursuing civil lawsuits against both Eulizier and the town of Wethersfield.

Eulizier joined the Wethersfield Police Department in 2018. During the investigation of the shooting, Eulizier was placed on administrative leave. The inquiry concluded in March with Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy characterizing Eulizier’s actions as “objectively reasonable.” She also placed blame on Vega Cruz.

“On April 20, 2019, 18-year-old Anthony Vega-Cruz fled from Wethersfield Police, who pulled him over for a motor vehicle violation,” she wrote. “In all probability, had he waited, this violation would have resulted in the issuance of a misdemeanor summons as this investigation revealed that Mr. Vega-Cruz had no criminal record and was not ‘wanted’ by law enforcement. Instead, Mr. Vega-Cruz fled and engaged police in a brief pursuit, endangering the lives of innocent motorists, the police, as well as his passenger, Stephanie Santiago.”

Santiago, Vega Cruz’s girlfriend, was not injured in the incident.

Eulizier also defended his actions during the shooting in the report.

“I knew that there was nowhere I could go,” Eulizier told investigators. “I believed the vehicle was about to strike me … I was inches from the front of the vehicle and I feared for my life and knew that I had to stop the operator from running me over with his vehicle.” 

Not everyone agrees with Eulizier and Hardy’s assessment of what happened.

Brian Foley, a former Hartford deputy police chief who now works for the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, was a law enforcement analyst at Fox61 last spring. He said at the time that even though the state’s current policy on moving vehicles may allow police officers to shoot, Eulizier’s “bad tactics” escalated the incident into a “life-or-death situation.”

“As long as officers have that in their head that they can shoot at a moving motor vehicle, sometimes the wrong decision might be made,” Foley said.

According to Hardy’s report, the car was pulled over because the “vehicle, with its heavily tinted windows, aroused Officer [Peter] Salvatore’s suspicions as it traveled in his patrol area.”

Connecticut Public also learned that Vega Cruz’s car was not registered and that the teen was driving without a license.

In his resignation letter, Eulizier addressed the scrutiny he’s faced since the shooting.

“Unfortunately, there are a vocal few who harbor a bias against police and do not understand the realities of police work or the dangers we face in enforcing the law and protecting our communities,” Eulizier said.

“Those who attack police and as well as some of the media coverage have incited some to threaten and harass me and members of my family.”

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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