Wethersfield’s police department was flagged Thursday as having significant racial disparities in traffic stops for a sixth time. The Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project has examined nearly 200,000 stops on roads bordering Wethersfield and found that Black and Hispanic motorists were more likely to get pulled over going into the town than coming out.
The project, known as CTRP3, analyzed stops on roads connecting Wethersfield to neighboring Hartford, Newington and Rocky Hill. In one example, researchers found Hispanic motorists were 15 percentage points more likely to get stopped by Wethersfield Police coming across the Hartford border. Black drivers were 13 percentage points more likely to get pulled over on roads leading from the capital into Wethersfield.
“The disparity could be the result of discriminatory policing by Wethersfield police against racial and ethnic minority motorists,” read the report filed by three CTRP3 researchers.
Five previous analyses of all municipal police departments in Connecticut had flagged Wethersfield as having the most significant racial disparities in traffic stops in the state. Project manager Ken Barone said those reports necessitated this deep dive into stops on roads in and around Wethersfield.
“Hopefully, we’re at the point now through all this research where, rather than denying that a disparity exists or simply thinking that it’s the result of their proximity to the city of Hartford, they’ll make a commitment to address it in a serious way,” he said.
Connecticut Public reached out to Wethersfield’s police chief, his lieutenant, Wethersfield’s town manager and its mayor for comment. At the time of publication, none of them had responded.
Two years ago, Barone, an analyst at the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University, was interviewed by Connecticut Public Radio about local traffic stop numbers dating back to 2013.
“They are the only one out of 107 with disparities that consistently keep appearing in the dataset,” Barone said back in 2019.
When asked to respond at that time, James Cetran, Wethersfield’s chief of police, rejected the suggestion that his department racially profiles drivers.
“We don’t have any officers here that are racially profiling. If I did, I’d fire him,” Cetran said two years ago. “I don’t want the grief for something like that.”
Cetran is scheduled to leave the force in August. He announced in February he’d retire August 31. That announcement came three months after Wethersfield town manager Gary Evans placed Cetran on administrative leave for interfering with Evans’ investigation of two police sergeants.
According to the Courant, Cetran isn’t ready to go yet.
The latest CTRP3 report, Wethersfield Border Discontinuity Analysis Report Findings, was sponsored by the Connecticut General Assembly. Barone said the legislature offered its support after the 2019 shooting death of Anthony Jose Vega Cruz by a Wethersfield police officer.
“Additional resources were made available to us by the Connecticut General Assembly to allow us to advance our analysis of Wethersfield,” Barone said. “This is the first-of-its-kind analysis and the first time we’ve done this deep of a dive into a particular police agency.”
Vega Cruz was shot on April 20, 2019 by then-Wethersfield police officer Layau Eulizier Jr. Vega Cruz evaded a traffic stop and a police chase ensued. Eulizier exited his car, continuing to pursue Vega Cruz on foot. Eulizier then fired multiple shots into the windshield of the car Vega Cruz was driving. Vega Cruz, 18, died two days later.
Eulizier was cleared of wrongdoing by a state prosecutor in March of 2020. He resigned a month later.
Vega Cruz’s family is suing Eulizier and the town of Wethersfield.