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Controversial Chief Retiring From Wethersfield Police Department

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Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public Radio
Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran speaks to protesters April 23, 2019, after the death of Anthony Jose Vega Cruz, who was shot by a Wethersfield officer.

Wethersfield’s police chief is retiring several months after he was placed on paid leave for interfering with a town manager’s investigation of two police sergeants.

“It has been an honor to serve the great residents of Wethersfield for over 47 years,” Chief James Cetran wrote in a Feb. 6 letter to the town. “While I intend to retire, I remain committed to Wethersfield and our continued success.”

But the retirement comes on the heels of controversy. Cetran, 70, was placed on leave by Town Manager Gary Evans in November. Evans said he got an anonymous tip that two Wethersfield police sergeants, Jennie and Oscar Rivera, had “abused time.”

Last summer, Evans told Cetran to let him know about any personnel actions the chief wanted to take. There was an internal affairs investigation into allegations surrounding the Riveras, one Evans said he didn’t want Cetran to take part in because of a possible conflict of interest.

Cetran didn’t listen.

“Unfortunately, you decided to disregard these conversations and issued discipline on November 19, 2020 for Jennie Rivera different than what I had already sent to her and the union on November 13, 2020,” Evans wrote. That, Evans wrote, was “unacceptable insubordination.”

The chief defended his actions in a letter he wrote in response. He alluded to what Evans wanted as an “unlawful order,” that he had to act to preserve Rivera’s due process.

“I believed the level of discipline you imposed was unjust and could be conceived to be discriminatory but was willing to comply with your order against my honest beliefs,” Cetran wrote on Nov. 23. “There is virtually no valid reason why I cannot continue to perform my duties and serve the Town ... I would like to get back to work and do my job without unnecessary interference and protect the citizens of Wethersfield.”

Cetran said Evans’ actions conflicted with the town’s collective bargaining agreement -- and that’s why he stepped in.

In the end, Jennie Rivera was suspended for four weeks and temporarily reassigned. Oscar Rivera was suspended for two days. The town says Jennie Rivera and her union are challenging her punishment.

Cetran returned to active duty on Jan. 18, but within three weeks, he announced his retirement.

Four days after that, on Feb. 10, the family of an 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a Wethersfield police officer in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the town.

Former Wethersfield police officer Layau Eulizier Jr. was also sued, less than two years after he fired multiple shots into a car windshield and killed the driver, Anthony Jose Vega Cruz.

Then-Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy noted in her report on the attempted traffic stop and resulting pursuit of Vega Cruz that Wethersfield’s internal policies prohibited using deadly force in a pursuit that likely would result in misdemeanor charges. She also said that Peter Salvatore, the officer who initially tried to stop Vega Cruz, “never communicated the reason for stopping” him.

Still, Eulizier was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing. Hardy called his use of force “objectively reasonable,” and Eulizier ended up resigning from the force in 2020. The Wethersfield Police Department never initiated an internal affairs investigation of the incident, the town said. The attorney representing Vega Cruz’s estate said that his client was racially profiled on the day he was shot.

That shooting, and the lawsuit that followed, touched on something that has stained Cetran’s legacy -- state numbers showed that Wethersfield police disproportionately stopped people of color over time. Cetran’s department has been flagged by Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy for having significant racial disparities in its traffic stops. 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.”

Cetran dismissed the notion that his officers were guilty of racially profiling anybody they stop.

“We don't have any officers here that are racially profiling,” Cetran said in 2019 when asked about the data. “If I did, I’d fire him.”

Cetran said he’d stay on the job until Aug. 31.

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