HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The father of an 18-year-old man shot to death by a Connecticut police officer in 2019 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit and is asking the state’s top prosecutor to order another investigation of the shooting, which was ruled to be justified.
Wethersfield Officer Layau Eulizier shot Anthony Vega Cruz on April 20, 2019, as Cruz was trying to flee a traffic stop with his girlfriend in the car. Eulizier ran in front of the car and fired through the windshield as Cruz tried to drive away. Cruz’s girlfriend was not hurt.
Cruz’s father, Jose Vega-Colon, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Feb. 10 against Eulizier and the town of Wethersfield, his attorneys announced Thursday evening. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
“Officer Eulizier discharged his firearm at Cruz despite the fact that he posed no threat to anyone, including the involved officers,” Vega-Colon’s lawyers said in a statement. “Further, (Wethersfield police) policy prohibits shooting at vehicles and using firearms and deadly force against suspected misdemeanor offenders.”
The lawyers also accused Eulizier and other officers of failing to provide timely medical attention to Cruz after he was shot. Cruz, whom police were trying to stop because the license plates on his car were not registered to that vehicle, died two days later at a hospital. Eulizier’s lawyer said officers immediately called for paramedics.
Vega-Colon’s lawyers include Ben Crump and Dale Galipo, who are both known nationally for representing the families of young Black men killed by police, and East Haven attorney Michael Jefferson. Eulizier is Black, while Cruz was Hispanic.
A message seeking comment was left Friday for Eulizier. Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran said he can’t comment on pending litigation.
Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr., the state’s top prosecutor, is reviewing the request to re-investigate the case, a spokesperson said.
Eulizier’s lawyer, Elliot Spector, denied the lawsuit’s allegations Friday, saying Cruz put the officer’s life in danger.
“There’s little question that he was being subjected to the risk of serious physical injury or death, and he has the right to defend himself from that risk,” Spector said. “It’s unfortunate that this incident occurred, but as the state’s attorney found … the shooting was necessary and objectively reasonable.”
Eulizier resigned from the force in June, after having been cleared of wrongdoing by Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy, whose decision outraged Cruz’s family.
Hardy withdrew her application for reappointment in June, after being suspended and publicly criticized for taking years to issue formal reports on shootings by police officers.
Vega-Colon’s lawyers said they are calling on Colangelo to assign another state’s attorney to reinvestigate the shooting, “given the failings” of Hardy.
Police dashcam and business surveillance videos show Eulizier running in front of Cruz’s car while it is stopped briefly after being rammed by a police cruiser. Eulizier yells, “Show me your hands,” several times and fires two shots through the windshield when the teenager drives forward. Eulizier then moves out of the way of the car, which turned slightly away from the officer.
Hardy said Eulizier believed the car was about to hit him and that his life was in danger.
The lawsuit says Cruz didn’t try to hit Eulizier, and neither Eulizier nor other officers were in the direct path of Cruz’s car. It accuses Eulizier of using excessive force. It also accuses police of racial profiling in trying to make the traffic stop.
Eulizier, an Air Force veteran, joined Wethersfield police in August 2018 after having been a Manchester officer for three years. Manchester police personnel records obtained by The Associated Press said Eulizier was involved in several episodes in which he lost his composure with the public and made tactical mistakes in Manchester.
He was reprimanded for “conduct unbecoming” in January 2018. Manchester police officials sent Eulizier to several remedial trainings to try to improve his performance.
Spector has said the Manchester documents portray Eulizier unfairly. While Eulizier did make “some rookie mistakes,” the records pertain only to a small fraction of Eulizier’s time on the Manchester force and don’t show all the good he did, Spector previously told the AP.
While with Manchester police, Eulizier and a state trooper were involved in a fatal 2015 shooting that was ruled justified. The trooper fatally shot a man who threatened the officers with a box cutter. Eulizier also opened fire but missed.