A state prosecutor criticized for her handling of police use-of-force investigations was suspended Thursday. State supreme court justice Andrew McDonald announced the suspension of Hartford state’s attorney Gail Hardy, who at one point in 2019 still hadn’t resolved five use of investigations --including four that were at least seven years old -- during a criminal justice commission meeting.
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Hardy was suspended for four business days without pay -- she only has eight days remaining in her appointment.
McDonald believes this is a first as he said that no prosecutor has ever previously been disciplined by the commission.
“This is a difficult day for all of us because we know that state’s attorney Hardy has been serving the state of Connecticut for a long period of time and has done so with great dedication on her part,” McDonald said. “That does not address, however, the serious dereliction in duty for her inexcusable delay in submitting these reports.”
One of the cases raised Tuesday involved Jose Maldonado who died six years ago at a hospital after he was tased by an officer in the East Hartford Police Department. It took three years for Hardy to rule that the officer was justified in his use of force.
Maldonado's brother, Wilson Ramos, spoke about Hardy's work during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting.
“I met with Ms. Hardy several times over the span of 38 months and my initial impression was that she had no interest of taking this case seriously,” Ramos said. “Instead, she just had the full intent of rubber-stamping the police narrative.”
Ramos said he witnessed the events that led to his brother’s death. Maldonado was 23 when he died.
Ultimately, as reported by the Journal Inquirer, East Hartford’s city council paid out a multi-million dollar settlement to Maldonado’s estate.
The commission began considering sanctions for Hardy last year after the Hartford Courant reported on a backlog that included two cases more than 10 years old. She later closed her four longest-running investigations, clearing police officers of wrongdoing in each instance.
In November of 2019, then chief state’s attorney Kevin Kane recommended to the commission that Hardy not be fired and that – as Connecticut Public Radio’s Lori Mack reported – a meeting take place to discuss her management of cases and consider disciplinary action.
On December 20, 2019, Hardy closed four cases with reports on police use of force that resulted in the deaths of Joseph Bak (March 3, 2008, in Hartford), Taurean Wilson (Jan. 10, 2009, in East Hartford), Edmanuel Reyes (May 19, 2011, in Manchester), and Ernesto Morales (July 11, 2012, in Hartford). Hardy said that each fatal shooting was justified and that no further action was required in any of the cases.
That left one more case for Hardy to close – the shooting death of Anthony Jose Vega Cruz, 18, by Wethersfield police officer Layau Eulizier Jr. That one had been open since April 2019.
Claudine Fox, the campaign manager of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, complained about the delayed investigations during public comment.
“Hardy made a promise to families impacted by her mismanaged investigations in December of 2019 only to turn around to take an additional three months to release the report on the investigation into the death of Anthony Jose Vega Cruz,” Fox said.
Previously released dashcam video shows that after Vega Cruz sped away from a traffic stop initiated by a different officer on Silas Deane Highway on April 20, 2019, a pursuit ensued. Less than a quarter-mile up the road, Eulizier joined the brief, high-speed chase and soon collided head-on with Vega Cruz’s Infiniti on the edge of a strip mall parking lot. The officer who tried to stop Vega Cruz -- Peter Salvatore -- caught up to the Infiniti in a police SUV and hit it on the driver’s side.
According to the video -- and surveillance footage also released by the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney -- Eulizier then ran out of his vehicle where he ended up in front of Vega Cruz’s moving vehicle with his gun drawn. He fired multiple shots into the front windshield. Vega Cruz was gravely wounded and died two days later.
Regarding the Vega Cruz case, while former Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane noted in a 2019 report to the commission that the length of Hardy's investigation into Vega Cruz's death wasn't "untimely," it wasn't completed until March of this year.
“We can only surmise that whatever discipline was offered at that time was not enough to push Hardy to change her ways,” Fox said Thursday regarding the investigation.
Hardy released the report on Vega Cruz’s death on March 18. In it, she characterized Eulizier’s use of force as "objectively reasonable,” clearing him of criminal liability.
The last straw for the commission, according to McDonald, had to do with another untimely response. He said it took her four months to respond to Kevin Kane’s report to the commission about the delayed investigations.
“At no time in her response did she ever acknowledge the damage that has befallen the Hartford judicial district, the division of criminal justice, the family members of the individuals who were shot by police officers and the police officers and their departments,” McDonald said.
Hardy responded to a Connecticut Public Radio request for comment with a written statement, where she wrote that she accepted the commission’s decision. She also apologized to the families of the deceased.
“I understand and accept the decision made by the Commission today and I hope to be able to continue to serve them and build upon the trust that we continue to forge between our communities and law enforcement in the Hartford Judicial District,” Hardy wrote.
McDonald said she wasn’t suspended for the remainder of her appointment because she has work left to do.