Wethersfield, CT — Deeply disturbing dash cam footage was released over the weekend showing a Wethersfield police officer jump out of his car and in front of the car belonging to 18-year-old Anthony Jose “Chulo” Vega Cruz and kill him. The teen was unarmed and not a threat to anyone when he was gunned down by the officer.
The incident unfolded on April 20, around 6 p.m. when a Wethersfield police officer initiated a traffic stop on Vega Cruz.
Wethersfield police Chief James Cetran explained the stop was initiated because “the plates did not match the car … The officer thought it was a stolen car.”
It is not immediately clear what led to that determination and police have yet to release any information proving that the car was actually stolen.
During the stop, Vega Cruz made the poor decision to flee. After being stopped for just 30 seconds, he took off, leading police on a brief chase.
When police catch up to Vega Cruz further down the road, the teenager spins out before trying to take off once more. According to police, it was at this moment that Officer Layau Eulizier Jr. exited his vehicle and “the suspect’s vehicle drove towards that officer,” forcing him to shoot.
However, when we watch the video below, it is entirely clear that Vega Cruz was not attempting to drive toward the officer and that Eulizier jumped in front of the vehicle before shooting Vega Cruz in the head twice.
Illustrating the futile nature of trying to kill a fleeing driver to “protect an officer,” after being shot in the head, Vega Cruz’ car remained in motion—as if shooting a driver in the head would make them apply the brake.
“Naturally, either reflexes or fear take over and you do something stupid,” Cornell Lewis, who has helped organize the protests, said. “But doing something stupid like that is no reason to have an officer shoot point-blank at the man.”
Sadly, Vega Cruz would not recover from the two bullets Eulizier put into his head and he died two days later.
After the shooting, Eulizier was placed on paid leave, pending the investigation by state officials.
“This investigation is in its early stages and I am unable to state at this time how long it will take to complete,” said Hartford State’s Attorney Gail P. Hardy. “Connecticut State Police continue to gather Wethersfield Police Department policies, evidence and to interview witnesses. I reiterate that this will be a thorough and comprehensive investigation to allow me to determine whether the use of force resulting in the death of Anthony Vega Cruz was justified under the applicable law.”
Wethersfield Mayor Amy Morrin Bello told FOX61 the videos showed “the dangers that our police are involved with every day.”
“We’ve had a lot of public outcry for the video, and I think it is important for people to be able to see it themselves,” she told the television station. “Otherwise there is a lot of misinformation that gets out there.”
But the only danger faced by this officer was a result of his own actions. He didn’t need to jump in front of a fleeing vehicle. His actions only led to violence and death. Had he decided not to get in the way, police could’ve caught up with Vega Cruz later, without creating a dangerous incident in the middle of a busy highway.
Naturally, however, Eulizier’s department disagrees.
“The video speaks for itself,” said Cetran, who also is president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. “I’m glad for the transparency.”
The video below certainly does speak for itself, but it doesn’t show that this shooting was justified. Had Eulizier been a cop in another state and jumped in front of a moving car and killed the driver, he would likely be indicted for manslaughter.
In fact, TFTP just reported on a case out of Texas in which a police officer was indicted for doing this very thing.
O’Shae Terry and his friend were stopped last September by Arlington police officer Julie Herlihy because the temporary tag on Terry’s vehicle had expired. Officer Bau Tran would also respond to the stop, and ten minutes later, he would shoot and kill Terry for trying to flee.
“The rule in New York City is you don’t fire at a moving vehicle unless somebody is using [a weapon] other than the vehicle itself to do something,” Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York City police sergeant who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York said to Connecticut Public Radio last week. “So if the person is shooting at you from the car, you shoot at it.”
As Vega Cruz and his passenger were unarmed, this was clearly not the case.
“The video footage released today by the State’s Attorney’s office shows what we already knew: This officer acted recklessly when he murdered Chulo, an unarmed teenager with his girlfriend, during a traffic stop,” attorneys Benjamin Crump and Michael Jefferson said in a statement. “We are devastated, enraged, and continue to demand justice for their son and brother. The video tells the story, and now, the officer must pay for his actions.”