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No Internal Investigation Into 2019 Fatal Police Shooting In Wethersfield

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 Wethersfield Police Department hasn’t yet started an internal investigation into the shooting death more than a year ago of an 18-year-old driver.

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According to Wethersfield Town Manager Gary Evans, there hasn’t been an internal assessment of the events that culminated in former Wethersfield officer Layau Eulizier’s 2019 killing of Anthony Jose Vega Cruz.

Eulizier was cleared by a state prosecutor of criminal wrongdoing, but he has resigned from the department. The other officer involved in the initial pursuit, Peter Salvatore, remains on the force. In her report on the incident, Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy noted that it’s against Wethersfield’s internal policies to use deadly force in a pursuit that likely would result in misdemeanor charges -- something Eulizier was tested on upon joining the department in August of 2018. She also said Salvatore, the officer who initially attempted to stop Vega Cruz, “never communicated the reason for stopping” him. 

Hardy tells Connecticut Public Radio nearly three months after her report was released why she included the violations to Wethersfield's General Orders in her report.

"I am not in a position to make a recommendation to the department as to follow-up on those violations as that would be outside the scope of the report," Hardy said. "For transparency purposes, I thought it was important that the public know the department's position and training on pursuits, roadblocks and the ramming of vehicles."

Mike Lawlor, former Gov. Dannel Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy, said it's clear from Hardy’s report that an internal investigation is in order.

“From reviewing the reports that do exist about the sequence of events, it’s very clear that at a number of points here,” Lawlor says, “this tragedy could’ve easily been averted had the officers involved followed the existing policies and training and legal mandates that apply in this kind of a situation.”

Lawlor also said the town’s potential exposure to civil liability should motivate the police department to conduct a thorough study of what happened.

“Most police departments want to learn from these experiences and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Lawlor said. “The absence of that willingness in the case of Wethersfield is really surprising.”

Melvin Medina, the public policy and advocacy director of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, believes Wethersfield’s actions demonstrate a need for independent analysis of police use of force instead of internal affairs investigations.

“What you’re seeing in the streets today are chiefs of police and law enforcement out marching with people on the streets saying they too are against police brutality, or police violence, and yet the instrument through which they would use to end police violence -- internal affairs -- they have proven an unwilling partner to the community to hold their own accountable,” Medina said.

Medina is also concerned that without anything on his record in Wethersfield, Eulizier could get a job at another department.

Eulizier resigned from the Wethersfield Police Department, effective April 15, nearly a year after he shot Vega Cruz. His resignation letter was sent to Connecticut Public Radio earlier this month, and in it he wrote that he never thought the day he shot and killed 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.

The Wethersfield Police Department hasn’t yet responded to a Connecticut Public Radio request for comment.

This post was updated to include comment from Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy.

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