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Multiple videos of fatal Wethersfield police shooting released

HARTFORD  — Videos released Friday show a Connecticut police officer's fatal shooting last month of an 18-year-old man who drove at him after an attempted traffic stop and chase, which sparked protests by the teen's relatives and activists.

Wethersfield Officer Layau Eulizier is seen on police dashcam and business surveillance videos running in front of a car while it is stopped briefly during the April 20 chase. Eulizier yells, "Show me your hands" several times and fires two shots through the windshield when the teenager drives at him.

The driver, Anthony Jose Vega Cruz , died two days later at a hospital, while a passenger, his 18-year-old girlfriend, was not injured.

Eulizier and another officer were trying to pull over Vega Cruz, whose nickname was Chulo, because the license plates on the car were not registered to that vehicle, officials said.

Lawyers for Vega Cruz's family, Ben Crump and Michael Jefferson, said the videos show Eulizier "acted recklessly" when he shot at the unarmed couple.

"We are devastated, enraged, and continue to demand justice for their son and brother," the lawyers said in a statement. "The officer must pay for his actions. We urge the State's Attorney to bring swift justice for this hurting family and criminally charge the officer who killed Chulo."

David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said there was no reason why a problem over license plates should have escalated into a fatal shooting that endangered motorists on the busy, four-lane Silas Deane Highway. He urged state lawmakers to pass legislation to reduce and better track violence by police.

Eulizier was placed on paid leave pending the investigation, under normal police protocols.

Dashcam video shows the second officer, Peter Salvatore, pull Vega Cruz over shortly before the shooting. Vega Cruz and his girlfriend cannot be seen through the tinted driver and passenger windows. As Salvatore approaches the car on foot, Vega Cruz drives off.

About 10 seconds later, Vega Cruz loses control of his car when Eulizier, driving from the opposite direction, tries to stop him. The car slides across the road and skids 180 degrees to a stop, and Eulizier rams it head-on with his SUV cruiser. Vega Cruz then puts the car in reverse as Eulizier gets out of his cruiser and yells, "Show me your hands." As Vega Cruz backs into the street, Salvatore rams the car, and it comes to a stop.

Eulizier then runs in front of the car, still yelling, "Show me your hands," before opening fire as the car comes at him.

Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy and Wethersfield officials said they released the videos in the interest of transparency while Hardy determines whether the shooting was justified. Hardy said she did not know how long the investigation will take.

Parts of the videos were edited "out of respect for Mr. Vega Cruz and his family," Hardy said. There also was no audio on most of the dashcam videos because of apparent microphone synching problems, Police Chief James Cetran said.

The videos show "the dangers that our police are involved with every day," Wethersfield Mayor Amy Morrin Bello said.

"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 WTIC-TV. "Otherwise there is a lot of misinformation that gets out there."

It was the second time in two weeks that Connecticut officials have taken the unusual step of releasing video of a police shooting so soon. They traditionally have waited until after an investigation is completed, as law enforcement officials in many other states do.

Last week, officials released police body camera and surveillance video of two police officers opening fire on an unarmed couple in a car in New Haven on April 16, while responding to a reported attempted armed robbery. A 22-year-old woman was wounded but survived.

Both police shootings sparked several days of protests by families, clerics, Black Lives Matter activists and others. All three officers who fired their guns in the two shootings are black.

Eulizier also was involved in a fatal 2015 shooting by police that was ruled justified.

 

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