Cox sues New Haven for $100 million; Elicker open to negotiate
Alleging violations of his civil rights, New Havener Randy Cox is suing the city for $100 million in damages after he was paralyzed in police custody in June.
Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer
Randy Cox is suing New Haven for $100 million in damages alleging that his fourth and 14th amendment rights were violated by the New Haven Police Department after he was paralyzed in police custody. New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker has said the city is open to settling.
Tuesday morning, Wallingford-based attorneys Lou Rubano and R.J. Weber III filed the lawsuit for $100 million in damages against the City of New Haven and the five officers involved in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut. On the steps of City Hall, prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the past, called on the city to do right by Cox.
“Randy’s case is like Freddie Gray, but after Freddie died police departments swore they would change,” NAACP Connecticut President Scot X. Esdaile told the News. “That didn’t happen in New Haven. What happened to Freddie happened to Randy seven years later. The world is now watching New Haven to see what the mayor and police chief will do.”
Cox was paralyzed after being arrested on June 19 by NHPD. Officer Oscar Diaz placed Cox into the back of an NHPD transport vehicle that did not have seatbelts.
In front of Yale’s Schwarzman center, Diaz drove the vehicle recklessly at 11 miles over the speed limit while using his cellphone. Diaz made a hard stop that sent Cox crashing into the front of the vehicle. The News reported last week that Diaz was a member of the department’s newly launched stop-texting-and-driving initiative.
Cox can be heard on NHPD footage calling out and saying that his neck is broken and that he can not move. Diaz then called for medical support. Instead of waiting for paramedics to arrive at the scene, Diaz violated NHPD policy and continued driving to central booking at NHPD headquarters on 1 Union Ave.
At central booking, Cox was forcibly removed from the transport vehicle with four other police officers involved in this decision. Cox was put in a holding cell until paramedics arrived 15 minutes later and took him to Yale New Haven Hospital.
According to Esdaile, Cox was readmitted to the hospital last week for complications and infections due to his paralysis.
The lawsuit specifies that Cox has suffered a cervical spine injury and fracture, a compromised immune system, a chronic and permanent respiratory condition and a shortened life expectancy.
“We are doing our best to help him. We’ve been singing and praying,” Cox’s mother Doreen Coleman said. “We don’t care how long it’s going to take. We’re going to get justice for him.”
Crump estimates that providing “basic quality of life” and medical treatment for Cox will cost between $20 million to $30 million since he is now a quadriplegic.
Crump further explained that the “mental anguish” of Cox becoming a quadriplegic influenced their decision to sue for $100 million.
Weber told the News that his co-counsel and Crump came to the decision of a $100 million settlement after consultation with medical experts and historical data from prior cases with similar injuries.
“No amount of money can bring back Randy’s ability to walk,” Crump said. “But, this suit is the beginning of some semblance of justice for Randy and his family.”
New Haven Police Officers Oscar Diaz, Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavandier, Luis Rivera and Sgt. Betsy Segui stand accused of violating Cox’s 4th and 14th Amendment rights after their allegedly negligent involvement in the incident that led to his severe injuries.
“As a direct and proximate result of the aforesaid negligence and carelessness of the defendants, Cox has suffered and continues to suffer great physical and emotional pain, including but not limited to mental anguish, frustration and anxiety over the fact that he was and remains seriously injured,” the 29-page lawsuit alleges.
All five officers are currently on paid administrative leave with the state’s attorney office investigating their actions. According to Weber, the investigation has now been completed, and that the matter is now in “the hands of” newly appointed State Attorney for New Haven Jack Doyle who will make a decision on the case by mid-October. Weber added that the U.S. Attorney’s office is also monitoring the situation.
This investigation is separate from the NHPD internal affairs investigation that the department will complete after the State’s Attorney office makes its determination on the case. NHPD Police Chief Karl Jacobson told the News that at the end of the NHPD IA investigation he will decide on proper discipline for the officers involved, including possible termination.
“No amount of money is going to make Randy be able to walk again,” Elicker said. “We need to ensure that we are fair in the process. While we all feel frustration because we want to ensure justice for Randy, we need to make sure that we do this appropriately and have the outcome that allows fairness and the process to take its course.”
Both Jacobson and Elicker said they have committed to preventing a similar incident from happening again and have instituted new reforms such as bystander training for officers and requiring seat belts in all transport vehicles.
“Policy reforms are important, but they don’t mean anything if the culture of the department doesn’t change,” Esdaile told the News. “That video showed us a lack of concern or respect for a black person’s basic human dignity. If the culture doesn’t change, the changes are just ink on paper.”
Crump and Esdaile also called on Yale students to get involved with the case and hold the city to account. Esdaile, who was born in Newhallville, said that he hopes to hold discussions and meetings with Yale students who wish to get involved and potentially plan a protest for Cox with students.
“It will soon fall to our future leaders, like those now at Yale, to pick up the mantle,” Crump told the News. “I am already awed by the grit and activism they show in the fight for equality — raising their voices to help prevent further tragedies like the one that has forever changed the life of Randy Cox. Fueled by the powerful activism of students in New Haven and elsewhere, we can take vital steps to create a better society.”
What’s next for the lawsuit
According to Weber, the case’s timeline primarily lies with the court. The next step is a joint proposal between the city, counsel for the five officers and Cox’s counsel for deadlines on discovery, motions and trial readiness.
The case has 17 different counts which specifically name excessive force, negligence, recklessness, intentional infliction of emotional damage, assault, battery and denial of medical treatment charges against the city and the officers.
Jorge Camacho, policy director of the justice collaboratory at Yale Law School, told the News that lawsuits like the one filed by Cox typically include multiple legal claims related to the same allegation to maximize the likelihood of success.
The claims of negligence and recklessness are common law claims which are related to the operation of the van and Cox’s treatment at the detention center. The claims of excessive force and denial of medical assistance are civil rights deprivation claims according to Weber.
In cases like Cox, civil rights deprivation claims are filed in conjunction with common law claims to strengthen the chance of damages being paid according to Camacho.
“We hope and expect that this case will be instrumental in leading to meaningful policing reforms that hold officers accountable and ensure the equitable enforcement of the law,” Crump said.
Elicker signals willingness to settle
At Tuesday’s press conference, Elicker and City Corporation Counsel Patrica King both said that the city was open to negotiate a settlement with Cox to ensure justice is done.
“We’re committed to getting justice for Randy on the policy and accountability side as well as the financial side,” Elicker said. “Most lawsuits end in settlements and this is something that is certainly on the table for us.
At the conference, King said that her team is still reviewing the suit and that she wants to “expeditiously” resolve the case, but that it would take time to organize and prepare from the city’s side.
Weber told the News that Cox’s team has made their side clear to the city, and that “the next step in negotiations lay” with the city.
“It would be premature to predict how the Cox case will turn out,” Camacho told the News.
“Though the possibility of a settlement seems high given the strong evidence that his injuries were caused by the acts of the officers involved in his transport,” Camacho added. “At trial, the outcome of Mr. Cox’s constitutional claims will depend largely on whose interpretation of ‘reasonableness’ prevails.”
This summer, Crump, Cox’s family and New Haven residents marched through New Haven and Yale campus demanding justice for Cox.