Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer

Hundreds marched through downtown New Haven Friday evening to demand structural changes to New Haven Police Department policy and criminal charges against police officers after a Black man was paralyzed in their custody.

Randy Cox, a 36-year-old Newhallville resident, was attending a block party on June 19 when he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. He was injured while being transported by New Haven police officers after they put him in the back of an NHPD transport vehicle that did not have seatbelts and abruptly stopped the car to avoid an accident. Cox remains paralyzed from the chest down and cannot speak, according to his family.

“I want justice for my son,” Doreen Coleman, Cox’s mother, told the News at the protest. “I want the cops to be held to account, whether that be their dismissal or criminal charges. My baby can’t speak, he has a tube in his mouth and he can’t walk.”

Protesters listen to Cox’s family, Ben Crump and NAACP leaders in front of NHPD’s union avenue headquarters (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

The rally was organized by the state NAACP chapter and Cox’s family, who demanded that officers involved be criminally prosecuted. Ben Crump, who was a lawyer for George Floyd’s family, is the Cox family’s lead attorney.

Cox was paralyzed after NHPD officers put him into the back of a police van without a seatbelt. According to body cam footage released by NHPD and posted online by the New Haven Independent, transport officer Oscar Diaz abruptly stopped the vehicle and Cox was thrown to the front of the holding area in the back of the van. 

Cox called out, saying he was hurt and banged on the dividing wall. The officer checked on him almost four minutes later, called an ambulance and then continued driving to central holding, in contravention of NHPD policy, which requires officers to stay put after calling for medical assistance for a detainee 

At holding, after Cox told the officers he could not move, he was forcibly carried to a holding cell. At one point in body cam footage, Cox says he can’t move and is told by another officer that “you weren’t even trying.” One officer suggested that Cox could not move because he “drank too much,” according to body cam footage. Crump has since coined a slogan chanted widely by protesters: “If I say my neck is broke, don’t take it as a joke.” 

Ben Crump, George Floyd’s attorney, has come to New Haven to represent Cox (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

Paramedics arrived 15 minutes later and took Cox to Yale New Haven Hospital, where he remains today.  Cox has undergone surgery to repair spinal damage, but he is paralyzed from the chest down and it is unclear if he will ever walk again, according to a statement released by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.

An NHPD Internal Affairs investigation was placed on hold after the state police opened an ongoing investigation. While these investigations are carried out, the five police officers who were involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave. 

The Cox family is calling for the immediate dismissal of the officers, in addition to either civil or criminal suits against them.

Crump led protesters in chants, including “If I say my neck is broke, don’t take it as a joke” and “how do you spell guilty — NHPD” (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

Newly-inaugurated NHPD chief Karl Jacobson and Elicker on Thursday unveiled a set of reforms to department policy, including the expectation that people in custody be transported with a seatbelt, barring special circumstances. 

“NHPD is committed to doing everything in our power to make sure an incident like the one that happened to Mr. Cox never happens again,” Jacobson told the News. “Quite simply, we were wrong. We can all see the bodycam footage. The initiatives and reforms we’re announcing today are an important series of actions to make good on that promise.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker was on the steps of NHPD headquarters when the protesters arrived (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

The new policy requires officers to “actively inquire” into the wellbeing of arrestees throughout the arrest process. Officers must also complete two training programs. 

“I don’t care about your initiatives,” Jeremy Brown, Cox’s older brother, said at Friday’s protest. “I want to hear that if you break a rule you will face accountability.”

Since Cox is paralyzed, he can not leave the hospital. His family Facetimed him into the protest and he is watching from the white phone that Crump is holding (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

Friday’s protest began at 5 p.m. in Dixwell. A group of roughly 300 marched down Broadway and Elm Street passing Payne Whitney Gymnasium, Cross Campus and Old Campus before continuing down the New Haven Green to the police department.

Protesters march down Broadway, chanting “Black Lives Matter! Randy Cox’s Life Matters” (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

According to Coleman, the march came together so that Randy Cox’s supporters could demonstrate to NHPD and the city government that what happened to him will never be tolerated again.

“Those could have been my kids,” said Newhallville resident Doreen Hutchinson. “I live in Newhallville and instead of Randy the cops might have done that to my own so we’re here today to ensure that the city knows that they can’t pull things like this and get away with it. We want them to take swift action to ensure all of us are treated with dignity.”

Three protesters sit in front of the department (Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer).

The New Haven Police Department is located at 1 Union Avenue.

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.