Four months after being left partially paralyzed in New Haven Police van, Randy Cox prepares to sue
As a state-level investigation into the actions of NHPD officers continues, Cox’s legal team looks to bring negligence charges in a civil rights lawsuit.
Randy Cox, who became partially paralyzed while in NHPD custody in June, is now preparing to sue the department four months after the incident.
After the vehicle transporting him was abruptly stopped, causing Cox’s injuries, officers offered him little medical help at a detention facility, repeatedly dragging him into a wheelchair and later into a holding cell. The incident, captured in videos released by the city government, sparked local protests against New Haven police and the placement of five NHPD officers on administrative leave.
Now, months after the incident, Cox’s legal team has announced its intentions to sue the city sometime in the following week, despite delays in a state-level investigation of the officers’ conduct that have pushed back the official suit’s filing.
“We had hoped that today we would have a finding by the state police on their investigation of these New Haven officers,” said RJ Weber, one of Cox’s lawyers, at a Sept. 15 vigil. “We had hoped those things would have been completed by now so that we could have a federal complaint filed and presented to you today, but due to those setbacks and those delays, I don’t anticipate that that lawsuit’s going to be filed for another week to ten days.”
On June 19, NHPD officers responded to a 911 call alleging a weapons complaint at a Lilac Street Block Party, then-Acting Police Chief Regina Rush-Kittle said in a June 20 press conference. Several officers stopped and arrested Cox following their investigation of the report, arresting him with charges of criminal possession of a firearm, carrying a pistol without a permit, threatening in the first and second degrees and breach of peace in the second degree.
Videos show an officer, Oscar Diaz — a member of the stop-texting-and-driving team the NHPD convened this spring — tapping on his cellphone as he drives the police van carrying Cox. He eventually made “a sudden stop to avoid a motor vehicle accident,” according to a letter released on Twitter by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.
Cox, who was sitting in the back of the police transport van unequipped with seat belts, then slipped down horizontally and slammed into a metal wall of the van head first. The vehicle was going 36 mph — 11 mph above the speed limit — at the time of the sudden stop.
Diaz verbally checked on Cox after he was heard yelling for help. After Cox informed Diaz he had fallen and been severely injured, Diaz stopped the vehicle outside of Yale’s Schwarzman Center to come to the backseat. Again, Cox informed Diaz he had been injured, but Diaz told him he could not move him and called a dispatch for an ambulance before continuing to drive.
When Diaz saw Cox slumped on the ground, he asked him, “How is your leg all the way up there?”
Eight and a half minutes after the incident, the two arrived at the detention center and were greeted by more officers. Diaz informed them that Cox said he fell and could not move, saying, “if he really, really fell, I would not even move him until the ambulance gets here, because just in case.”
One officer captured on video said, “Just be careful, he was kicking the door, and everything else.” Another officer removed Cox’s handcuffs. After he attempted to move his legs, Cox insisted that he could not move and that the officers were not listening to him.
After officers repeatedly told Cox to slide himself out of the van, Cox replied, “Look, look, if you gotta drag me, do what you gotta do.”
The officers then pulled him out by his feet and held him up by his arms, eventually placing him in the wheelchair. As a paralyzed Cox was ordered to slide himself out of the van, one officer, Betsy Segui, repeatedly yelled at him, telling him “you’re not even trying,” “he’s doing extra shit,” “move your leg,” “get up,” “sit up!” and “you just drank too much.”
Cox slid out of the wheelchair a few times, saying he “can’t feel shit.” Cox was then processed by the jail. All the while, his head and neck slumped down against his shoulder and he remained immobile. He then partially slipped off the seat of the wheelchair again, before officers took him from the chair, dragged him into a cell by his arms and propped him against a bed. Cox then fell onto the floor. Officers shackled his ankles and Segui declared him “perfectly fine.”
None of the videos released show an ambulance arriving.
Police have offered shifting accounts of the incident over time. In an initial press conference held one day after the incident, Rush-Kittle told reporters that after being stopped by police, Cox was “uncooperative,” but in another press conference the following day, then-Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson ultimately told reporters Cox was “handcuffed without incident.”
Rush-Kittle also initially told the press that the van only stopped in “an invasive maneuver to avoid a motor vehicle accident”; later, it was determined the officer driving the vehicle was speeding and looking at his cellphone.
Although his condition seemed to improve in the months following the initial injury, Cox was re-admitted to the hospital last week. Elicker and Jacobson visited Cox the week prior.
“He has a fever that he can’t get rid of. It’s been really hard on him mentally, dealing with this situation,” LaToya Boomer, Cox’s twin sister, said at a Sept. 15 vigil for her brother. “At this point, he can’t even scratch his hair if it’s itching. He can’t wipe his eyes if he’s crying. He has no use of his fingers, he has a little bit of use of his arms, no movement from the chest down.”
As a lawsuit awaits filing, state police investigate
One of Cox’s lawyers, Jack O’Donnell, discussed his legal plan with the News, stating they are pursuing a claim against the city and are looking into civil rights suits. He also wants to take the issue further, pushing for laws that would prevent injuries like this from happening again.
“We need things like a medical Miranda warning where you have to ask if someone needs emergency medical attention provided if so requested,” O’Donnell said. “Making sure that all transport vans are retrofitted with seat belts so that someone can’t be thrown around.”
Yale Law Clinical Lecturer Jorge Camacho LAW ’10 told the News that Cox’s team will be able to pursue legal claims of injury easily, as there is strong evidence his injuries occurred as a result of the officers’ “at the very least negligent” actions.
“Everyone knows that’s coming,” Camacho said. “It’s just really a question of ‘what is the dollar amount?’ What is the compensation to Mr. Cox and his family going to look like?”
During a June 21 press conference, Rush-Kittle announced that the Connecticut State Police will investigate “whether there is any criminal aspect surrounding the incident.” An Internal Affairs investigation within the NHPD has been halted until the state police investigation is completed. Although the officers involved have remained on administrative leave since the incident occured, Boomer told those gathered at the vigil that the officers should be “fired and arrested.” As of Sept. 21, the state investigation is ongoing.
During a June 28 NAACP community meeting, Jacobson told community members gathered that the Internal Affairs investigation will “do what needs to be done” if the state-level investigation does not.
“We have fired other officers who have not done the right thing over the last two and a half years I have been mayor,” Elicker said at the meeting. “But we live in a system where people have rights, and we have to see this process through.”
NHPD officers have been fired and suspended for misconduct several times in the past few years. In April, one officer, Kenroy Taylor, was fired by the Board of Police Commissioners for “a pattern of untruthfulness and mishandling cases throughout 2020.” In August, former sergeant Shayna Kendall was fired for lying about her handling of a traffic stop to mask “road rage.” Christopher Troche, another ex-officer, was also fired this August after being arrested in November for patronizing a sex worker.
Segui, for her part, was previously placed on administrative leave in 2020 after failing to send officers on required walking tours of the detention center she supervised — the night one person, De’Sohn Wilson, died by suicide in custody. Earlier, she and her officers refused to seek out medical care for Wilson after he arrived “visibly in pain” and requested to be taken to the hospital.
NHPD policy states that officers must immediately seek and wait for medical attention after someone in custody brings attention to an injury. Driving at 11 mph over the speed limit is also typically classified as an infraction of “traveling unreasonably fast” under Connecticut state law, and law enforcement vehicles cannot speed in non-emergency situations when sirens are not used. State law also prohibits using a handheld cellphone while driving. Camacho said that determining whether officers violated specific policy may help inform conclusions on their level of culpability.
“It’s harder to prove intentionality than it is recklessness, it’s harder to prove recklessness than it is negligence,” Camacho explained. “Once there’s an official finding as to what their level of culpability and involvement was, then there’ll be a determination made on discipline or even potentially termination.”
In a July 6 statement, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Vanessa Roberts ’96 said her office is “closely monitoring” the investigation and awaits the state’s findings. According to the statement, “if federal action is warranted, the Justice Department will pursue every available avenue to the full extent of the law.” According to Benjamin Crump, one of Cox’s lawyers, the team has met with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Crump, popularly nicknamed “Black America’s Attorney General,” has helped litigate multiple civil rights cases. He was a lawyer for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which recently saw policeman Derek Chauvin sentenced to 21 years in federal prison, and he additionally represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
Camacho said that proving civil rights violations may be more challenging than pursuing a simple injury suit, as it is difficult to determine whether Cox’s injuries were sustained through officers’ negligence or intent before state investigation findings become public.
“Where they tend to intervene most is where there is a very, very clear civil rights violation that was incurred,” Camacho said.”And I think, obviously, the evidence here points to there being some kind of a violation of Mr. Cox’s rights, but the difficulty can be in articulating and proving what that right was and the responsibility the officers had.”
The state investigation may inform the lawsuit Cox’s lawyers will bring. At the Sept. 15 vigil, they announced they would need to wait another week to ten days before filing a federal complaint, as they had originally anticipated for the state to release its findings by now. Weber brought a draft of the lawsuit to the vigil.
“It makes the claims against the individual officers for negligence in the operation of the motor vehicle; it makes claims against the officers for violating Randy Cox’s civil rights in the way that they handled him and manhandled him when he was in that detention center,” Weber announced. “We have claims against the city of New Haven.”
Community response to the case
During the NAACP community meeting, several speakers called for accountability among police and the legal system and criticized the NHPD’s relationship with the Black community. Beyond the new basic police reforms announced, they called for widespread changes to how both the police and “the white general public” — as termed by Michael Jefferson, Lead Attorney for the NAACP of Connecticut — treat Black people.
“If this society does not care about the general welfare of Black people and we are devalued as human beings … and if you believe as I do that we should expect no revolutionary changes in the mindset of the dominant culture in the immediate future, then all we have left is to build mechanisms of accountability to hold these individuals accountable for their actions — and I’m talking about the police, I’m talking about prosecutors, and if necessary, the judges themselves,” Jefferson said, drawing applause and calls of approval from the audience.
Other speakers drew on the importance of community support and political mobilization among Black people. State House representative Robyn Porter called on those gathered to show kindness and solidarity toward each other, asking mothers to imagine what they would do if Cox was their own son.
Crump and Cox’s family members also addressed those gathered. Boomer addressed the crowd solemnly as she expressed her disbelief with the officers’ treatment of her brother.
Several times throughout his speeches at the NAACP meeting and Sept. 15 vigil, Crump and activists led the audience as they chanted, “Justice for Randy Cox!” At the vigil, Crump added that when Cox receives justice, “it’s good for New Haven, it’s good for America.”
A protest was also held July 8 in New Haven, where hundreds gathered to march for Cox. Crump hopes that Yale will continue to rally.
“I hope the students at Yale will do like other young students at colleges all across America, and take a stand for justice and say that we’re better than this,” Crump told the News. “So hopefully, our community will look at that video and they will be galvanized to say this is New Haven where we are located, and we want to send a message loud and clear that we are better than this video.”
Doreen Coleman, Cox’s mother, spoke at the Sept. 15 vigil. She announced that Cox needed the support of others in the broader community.
“Pray, sing, say hello — whatever you need to do,” Coleman said. “He can see what everybody’s saying, he’s got his own phone. We work the phone for him, so whoever wants to say hi, hello, how are you doing, whatever whatever, we’re the ones who respond with what he says.”
Reforms in police policy and culture
In the days and weeks following the incident, the city, state and NHPD moved to institute a series of reforms aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.
Immediately following Cox’s injury, according to Jacobson, the two NHPD police vans not outfitted with seat belts were ordered taken off the road. Previously, they had used hand loops on the walls of the vans as a means of security for handcuffed people under arrest.
On Jacobson’s first day as NHPD chief shortly after the incident, the city announced a new set of standard operating procedure reforms and initiatives in a press release, including one sweeping order that took effect on July 3. One of its policies named police cruisers as the primary means of prisoner transport and required seat belts in all police transport vehicles.
The policy additionally specifies that conveyance vans — like the one that carried Cox — may only be used with a supervising officer’s authorization for court transportation in special circumstances, or in instances with multiple arrests.
The order also states that officers must not use cell phones or break the speed limit while transporting those in custody, despite state law having already established that police vehicles cannot break traffic laws while they are not using sirens. In a Sept. 15 update, Elicker and Jacobson also added that random body camera audits are being conducted in detention facilities.
A second policy established standard operating procedure in situations where medical attention is required. Officers must now ask those in their custody whether they are injured or in need of medical attention before they are transported and after they arrive at detention facilities, and officers must closely monitor their health during transport. The policy requires officers to immediately contact their supervisors and request an EMS dispatch if someone in custody reports an injury or asks for medical help.
A Sept. 15 press release stated that almost all officers had completed a training on de-escalating “critical incidents.” During the month of Oct., officers will also be required to complete active bystander training.
Aside from reforms, many have pointed toward changes in police culture. At the NAACP meetings, activists drew attention toward a culture of over-policing and mistreatment in Black communities.
“We are policed differently,” Jefferson said at the community meeting. “That’s the deal. That’s the bottom line. They go to a house in New Haven, and the neighbor calls the cops for an argument. Not only do they arrest one of the participants, but if a child is crying or screaming, they charge them with risk of injury. They go to a white couple’s house in East Rock or the Annex, no one gets arrested. And DCF is never called on them.”
Elicker stated he did not believe there was a culture of police brutality in the NHPD at a June 28 press conference, but he described police culture as “hierarchical” and added that officers must be able to stand up to each other.
Crump, meanwhile, condemned police for a broader pattern of neglecting the needs of Black people, drawing parallels between Cox’s injury and those of police brutality cases across the nation.
“They didn’t believe George Floyd when he said ‘I can’t breathe’ 28 times,” Crump said at the NAACP meeting. “They didn’t believe Eric Garner when he said ‘I can’t breathe’ 19 times. And they didn’t believe Randy Cox here in New Haven when he said ‘I can’t move my arms.’”
The NAACP was founded in 1909.