Adrian Kulesza

Last Friday, a state board overturned the firing of Oscar Diaz, the New Haven Police Department officer who was driving the van when Randy Cox was paralyzed. 

Two of three arbitration officers on the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration voted to overturn the city’s termination of Diaz, who was fired in June of last year for his role in paralyzing Randy Cox, which sparked protests in New Haven. The panel ruled that Diaz was not responsible for Cox’s injuries and should return to his post with full pay after a 15-day unpaid suspension.

Cox, a 36-year-old Black man, was paralyzed in police custody after he was arrested by NHPD officers on June 19, 2022. While driving Cox to the Westchester Avenue substation, Diaz, who was speeding, stopped abruptly to avoid a crash and Cox slammed against the back of the police vehicle, which did not have seatbelts.

Diaz did not wait for an ambulance and instead took Cox to NHPD headquarters, where he was dragged out of the van and into a holding cell before receiving medical attention. Cox repeatedly told the five officers involved he could not move but was dismissed according to footage released by the NHPD. 

On Sept. 27, 2022, Cox filed a lawsuit for $100 million in damages against the city of New Haven and the five officers involved: Diaz, Betsy Segui, Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavendier and Luis Rivera. The city settled the case for $45 million in June 2023, almost a year after Cox’s arrest, marking the largest settlement in a police misconduct case in United States history. 

After a criminal investigation conducted by Connecticut State Police, Diaz was charged in November 2022 with cruelty to persons and reckless endangerment in the second degree. Both criminal charges are still pending. The New Haven Board of Police Commissioners voted to fire Diaz on June 28, 2023, on the basis of violating several general orders. Diaz also has a pending decertification request at Connecticut’s State Police Officer Standards and Training Council.

After deciding that Diaz “did not commit all of the violations with which he was charged,” two of three members of the State Arbitration Panel ruled that the decision to terminate Diaz’s office lacked just cause.

The ruling claims that there is no evidence to prove Diaz’s actions resulted directly in Cox’s injuries and says that he treated Cox with respect. It also says that Diaz’s use of his phone while driving was a minor violation of a general order.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson released a joint statement shortly after the ruling was publicized expressing their disagreement with the panel’s decision.

“​​We are incredibly disappointed and strongly disagree with the ruling by the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration,” Elicker and Jacobson wrote. “We strongly believe the decision to terminate Officer Diaz was the right one, and the city will challenge the ruling by submitting a motion to vacate to the Connecticut Superior Court.”

Despite the ruling of the Arbitration Board for Diaz to return to the NHPD following a 15-day unpaid suspension, Diaz will not be reinstated as an officer due to his forthcoming criminal trial and motion to vacate. 

The News could not reach Diaz for comment and his lawyer, Jeffery Ment, did not respond to a request for comment.

“In the immediate term, the decision of this arbitration board clears a hurdle for the officer who’s seeking to be reinstated as a police officer and escape accountability for what happened to Randy Cox,” said Jorge Camacho, who is the policing, law and policy director of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School. 

Camacho added that this arbitration ruling may have implications for Diaz’s criminal trial.

“The findings of the arbitration board are pursuant to a standard of evidence and burden of proof that is lower than what a criminal prosecution would need to result in a conviction,” Camacho said. “You would have to be even more certain of the conduct that this officer did to sustain a criminal conviction than to sustain his firing from the New Haven police department.”

Florencio Cotto, president of the New Haven Police Union, did not respond to the News’ request for comment.

The Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration is located at 38 Wolcott Hill Rd. in Wethersfield.

Hannah Kotler covers Cops & Courts and Transportation for the City desk. She is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles majoring in Ethics, Politics, Economics.
Kenisha Mahajan covers Cops & Courts for the City desk. She is a first-year in Benjamin Franklin College from Queens, New York majoring in ethics, politics and economics.