A Connecticut police officer who fired through the windshield of a car coming at him and killed the 18-year-old driver was justified in using deadly force, a state prosecutor announced Wednesday.
Wethersfield Officer Layau Eulizier believed that the car was about to hit him and that his life was in danger, Hartford prosecutor Gail Hardy determined.
Police said Anthony Jose Vega Cruz drove at Eulizier after fleeing a traffic stop and leading police on a brief chase.
Hardy’s decision outraged Vega Cruz’s relatives, who vowed to sue Eulizier and the police department, said their lawyer, Ben Crump.
“This execution-style killing was senseless — a traffic violation should not carry a death sentence,” Crump said in a statement. “Officer Eulizier was sworn to protect the rights of every citizen, and he failed that duty in the most shocking of ways.”
Police dashcam and business surveillance videos show Eulizier running in front of the car while it is stopped briefly during the April 2019 chase. Eulizier yells, “Show me your hands,” several times and fires two shots through the windshield when the teenager drives at him.
Vega Cruz died two days later at a hospital, while a passenger, his 18-year-old girlfriend, was not injured.
“Officer Eulizier discharged his firearm in fear that the operator was about to run him over and that he would lose his own life,” Hardy wrote in a report. “His belief that deadly force was needed to defend himself and others from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force was objectively reasonable and therefore justified.”
Officers were trying to pull over Vega Cruz because the license plates on his car were not registered to that vehicle, officials said.
Vega Cruz’s relatives and the NAACP had called for Eulizier to be arrested, while the family’s lawyers described the officer as a “ticking time bomb” because of problems he had at another police department. Eulizier is black, while Vega Cruz was Hispanic.
Crump — a Florida attorney known for representing the families of young black men killed by police — and Michael Jefferson, another lawyer for the family, said there was no reason for Eulizier to run in front of the car and create a dangerous situation. They also cited personnel records that said Eulizier had problems handling stressful situations and made tactical mistakes when he was a Manchester officer from 2015 until 2018.
Eulizier’s lawyer, Elliot Spector, has said Eulizier felt he had to run in front of the car when it stopped briefly because he couldn’t see the driver through the darkly tinted door windows.
Spector also 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 said.
Eulizier, who was taken off patrol duty and reassigned to administrative tasks during the investigation, is pleased with Hardy’s ruling, Spector said Wednesday. Spector said it was tragic that Vega Cruz chose to put the officer’s life in danger.