Two days after the April 20 shooting on the Silas Deane Highway, Anthony Jose Vega Cruz, who was driving the vehicle, died from gunshot injuries. His 18-year-old girlfriend, Stephanie Santiago, who was in the passenger's seat at the time of the incident, was not hurt.
Footage from Officer Peter Salvatore's car shows him stopping Cruz, who he suspected was driving a stolen vehicle, at around 6 p.m. April 20. According to police, the license plates on the car Cruz was driving were not registered to that vehicle. The footage shows Cruz momentarily pulling over but shortly afterward fleeing the scene as Salvatore exits his car and approaches Cruz. The officer is then seen rushing back into his car to pursue Cruz.
Officer Layau Eulizier Jr. joins the pursuit and is seen ramming his car into Cruz's before getting out of his vehicle, shouting "show me your hands" three times and then shooting at Cruz through the car's windshield.
Salvatore arrives at the scene moments before Eulizier shoots at Cruz's head twice through the front windshield. Cruz's car is then seen coming briefly to a stop before Santiago, who was in the front passenger seat, opens the door. A few seconds later, the car begins to slowly drive forward again. When both officers approach the vehicle with their guns drawn, the car comes to a complete stop, and Santiago exit with her hands in the air.
"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 [Cruz's nickname], an unarmed teenager with his girlfriend, during a traffic stop," attorneys Benjamin Crump and Michael Jefferson, who are representing Cruz's family, said in a statement obtained by the CT Mirror. "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."
According to activists and friends who have staged protests since Cruz's death, the officers involved in the incident need to be held accountable for their actions.
"The young man is in the car — a gun is being pointed at him," Cornell Lewis, one of the protests' organizers, recently told the CT Mirror. "Naturally, either reflexes or fear take over, and you do something stupid," he said, referring to Cruz's decision to flee the scene. "But doing something stupid like that is no reason to have an officer shoot point-blank at the man."
The Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad is still investigating the shooting.
"This investigation is in its early stages, and I am unable to state at this time how long it will take to complete," Hartford State Attorney Gail P. Hardy said following the release of the dashcam footage. "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."
According to Joseph Giacalone, a retired New York City police sergeant who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, a police supervisor should have been consulted to decide whether officers should have continued to escalate the chase.
"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," Giacalone recently told Connecticut Public Radio. "So if the person is shooting at you from the car, you shoot at it."