Randy Cox attorneys and family decry insufficient charges for officers
Cox’s team called for city support, felony charges for the five officers charged with misdemeanors for their role in permanently paralyzing Cox.
Randy Cox’s mother, Doreen Coleman, spoke outside at City Hall Tuesday. (Sophie Sonnenfeld, Contributing Photographer)
Every day Randy Cox’s mother Doreen Coleman rides the bus an hour to Apple Rehabilitation in West Haven, where her son is recuperating after he was permanently paralyzed by police in June.
At a press conference outside New Haven City Hall on Tuesday, Coleman spoke about Cox’s challenges, which include rehabilitation center staffing shortages and his deteriorating health due to insufficient care. Cox’s lawyers and family members described his precarious medical condition, criticized the leniency of the charges brought against the officers responsible for his paralyzation and questioned Mayor Justin Elicker’s commitment helping Cox’s case in light of recent legal filings.
“[The family is] here with a heavy heart today because they are responding to the recent developments in the ongoing saga for justice for Randy Cox, and it is becoming a saga,” said Cox’s lawyer Ben Crump, a nationally renowned civil rights attorney. “The family is becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of accountability.”
Cox sustained spine and neck injuries — leaving him paralyzed — on Father’s Day while being driven to a police station in a van without seat belts after being arrested for weapons charges that prosecutors later dropped.
The injuries occurred when the New Haven Police Department officer behind the wheel stopped abruptly to avoid a car crash while speeding. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, the officer drove Cox to the police detention center. Officers then dragged Cox out of the van, processed him in a wheelchair, and put him into a holding cell- all without providing medical care. Cox repeatedly told the officers that he could not move while the officers brushed him off, telling him he “just drank too much.”
Crump said that the brutality Cox experienced and the delays in his search for justice were in part because Cox is Black.
“At what point do we keep saying Black lives don’t matter?” Crump asked the assembled crowd. “You cannot deny that Ms. Doreen is heartbroken, and her son is paralyzed. And why is that? Because it’s from a system that doesn’t value black people.”
The New Haven Independent published a compilation of the most relevant police body camera footage of Cox’s injury and jailing.
Cops’ charges were “a slap on the wrist”
The primary issue that Cox’s lawyers highlighted was the weakness of the charges against the five officers who paralyzed Cox. The officers were each charged Monday with two misdemeanors: reckless endangerment in the second degree and cruelty to person.
“They got a misdemeanor slap on the wrist where they will probably see little to no jail time,” Crump said. “And Randy Cox has a life sentence. How’s that fair?”
Cox’s attorneys asserted that if a private citizen had paralyzed Cox in the manner that police did, they would be charged with a felony. They specified that assault with a motor vehicle was a charge they would like to have seen filed.
Crump also decried the lack of communication from the state’s attorney on the charges filed. He noted that prosecutors in Buffalo, where Crump is representing the victims of a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket, had preemptively alerted the victims’ lawyers of the charges they hoped to bring. No such notice was given in Cox’s case.
LaToya Boomer, Cox’s sister, echoed the call for harsher charges against the officers. She described how if she, as a mother, failed to properly care for her child who broke their neck accidentally, she would be arrested on the spot and lose custody, her job and her house.
“These charges were a slap in the face.” Boomer said. “How is this fair?”
Boomer also read a statement by Cox to the crowd of reporters and supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall. Cox was glad to hear about the arrests, seeing them as the criminal justice system working and the start on a path towards justice.
“It’s time for a change,” Cox wrote in the statement. “This ain’t about me, it’s about the people that come after me, so no one else has to go through this. I have faith that all things will work out. I just have to trust the process and wait and see.”
Lawyers object to filings faulting Cox
Crump also took exception to a legal filing the city submitted last week that suggested Cox was partially responsible for his paralyzation, introducing a defense of “contributory negligence,” meaning Cox’s negligent behavior either led to or exacerbated his injuries.
“It’s astonishing to us in the family, the responses that we saw from the city and the officers is absolutely astonishing,” Crump said. “Unbelievable. Because the city has said they are going to take accountability for what happened.”
In September, Cox’s attorneys filed suit against the city and the officers involved for $100 million in damages. At the time, Mayor Justin Elicker signaled he was ready to settle, telling reporters settlement was “certainly on the table.”
Last week, the city seemed to reverse course, with a filing claiming the city should be protected by “governmental immunity.” This move, New Haven Corporation Counsel Patricia King told the New Haven Independent, was a required legal filing to preserve the city’s legal rights.
Four of the five officers named in Cox’s civil lawsuit filed briefs arguing that their behavior, which included dragging a paralyzed Cox into a holding cell and handcuffing him, was reasonable and covered under “qualified immunity” In large part these claims pointed to Cox as at fault for his own “negligence and carelessness.”
Crump called on Elicker to honor the promises he made to help Cox and his family, saying he knows the Mayor does not personally believe that Cox was responsible for his own injuries.
When asked whether he thought Cox was responsible for his paralyzation, Elicker declined to give a definitive answer, and instead said the city was interested in continuing the conversation with Cox’s legal team with the goal of coming to a settlement.
“I represent the city and the lawyers have advised us that that is an appropriate legal filing as we continue this conversation,” he said at the press conference.
New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson initially launched an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident which was then paused as state police conducted their five-month investigation that wrapped up in October. Now that Connecticut State’s Attorney’s office has charged those officers, Jacobson said the NHPD is reopening their IA case.
Once IA finishes the case, the office can refer recommendations on disciplinary actions to Jacobson. But Jacobson only has the power to issue punishments as severe as a 15-day suspension. The other course of action Jacobson can launch once the IA report is finalized is to refer the matter to the city’s Board of Police Commissioners. With a vote, that board has the power to terminate the officers. On Tuesday, Jacobson declined to say how long the IA investigation might take.
“There’s a lot of information there so our people are following up with that,” Jacobson said. “They have to identify all the policies and procedures that the officers violate and then give me a conclusion. I don’t have a timeline but obviously, this is important so we’re going to move as quickly as possible.”
NAACP Connecticut State Conference President Scot X. Esdaile, who spoke at the press conference, promised that the organization would turn out supporters of Cox at the cops’ court appearance.
“The NAACP will mobilize and organize individuals from across the state and across the nation to come to court and let their voices be heard when these individuals are arraigned in court,” Esdaile said.
The officers are set to appear in court next Thursday, Dec. 8.