Police role in Randy Cox injuries and paralysis sparks nationwide outrage
In June, New Havener Randy Cox was arrested by New Haven police officers and paralyzed while in custody. The officers have since been arrested, with civil and criminal court cases awaiting trial.
Randy Cox, a 36-year-old Black man from New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, was arrested on June 19 and left paralyzed while in police custody.
New Haven Police Department officers responded to a call at a Lilac Street block party celebrating Juneteenth. At the party, officers arrested Cox for possession of a firearm, breach of peace in the second degree and carrying a pistol without a permit. The charges against Cox were later dropped.
While transporting Cox to the NHPD detention center for processing, Oscar Diaz, the officer driving the van, hit the brakes to avoid a collision. Diaz was distracted at the wheel and driving 11 miles over the speed limit. Cox, who was in the back of the van — which was not equipped with seatbelts — slammed head first into the wall of the van as Diaz hit the breaks.
After hearing Cox yell, Diaz stopped the van outside of the Yale Schwarzman Center. Diaz spoke with Cox, who was still in the back of the van. According to Diaz’s body camera footage, Diaz told Cox that he could not help Cox move. Diaz instead proceeded to drive Cox to the NHPD detention center, without calling an ambulance.
Several other police officers met the van upon its arrival at the detention center. On body camera footage, Diaz can be overheard explaining the situation: “If he really, really fell, I would not even move him until the ambulance gets here, because just in case.”
Betsy Segui, an officer present at the scene, was then caught on video footage telling Cox to “get up” and “sit up,” also adding, “you just drank too much.”
A paralyzed Cox was dragged into the detention center, placed in a wheelchair and processed by the jail before receiving medical attention.
The NHPD and city officials offered conflicting accounts of the incident. Initial reports described Cox as being uncooperative, but later statements by then-assistant police chief Karl Jacobson described Cox as being “handcuffed without incident.”
On July 8, hundreds of New Haveners marched through the streets of New Haven to demand accountability and structural changes from the NHPD. The rally was organized by Connecticut’s NAACP chapter and the Cox family.
Doreen Coleman, Cox’s mother, spoke to the News at the demonstration.
“I want justice for my son,” she said. “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.”
Ben Crump, a nationally prominent civil rights attorney who represented George Floyd’s family, was at the demonstration and coined the slogan “If I say my neck is broke, don’t take it as a joke” which protesters later chanted.
LaToya Boomer, Cox’s sister, detailed her brother’s physical condition during a vigil held on Sept. 15.
“He has a fever he can’t get rid of. It’s been really hard on him mentally, dealing with the situation,” she said. “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.”
In an interview with the News, NHPD chief Jacobson promised change.
“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 said at the time. “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.”
On Tuesday Sept. 27, Wallingford-based attorneys Lou Rubano and R.J. Weber III filed a $100 million lawsuit on Cox’s behalf for damages against the City of New Haven and the five officers involved in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut.
According to the lawsuit, Cox has suffered a cervical spine injury and fracture, a compromised immune system, a chronic and permanent respiratory condition and a shortened life expectancy.
The “mental anguish” of Cox becoming quadriplegic drove the family’s decision to sue for $100 million, according to Crump.
The 29-page suit alleges “Cox has suffered and continues to suffer great physical and emotional pain, including but not limited to mental anguish, frustration and anxiety” as a direct result of “the aforesaid negligence and carelessness of the defendants.”
At a press conference after the filing, Elicker suggested a willingness to settle and highlighted New Haven’s commitment “to getting justice for Randy on the policy and accountability side as well as the financial side.”
The mayor cited an insurance hold as what was preventing an initial settlement. The city’s policies, which are worth close to $30 million, would require an additional payout.
The Cox family is continuing its settlement claim and working with the city to reach a deal.
The five officers involved — Oscar Diaz, Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavandier, Luis Rivera and Betsy Segui — were charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree and cruelty to person by the State’s Attorney’s office in late November. All the officers turned themselves in to state police in Westbrook the same day.
The criminal charges could result in an 18-month sentence for the officers charged. All five officers pleaded not guilty in a Jan. 11 court appearance, citing qualified immunity. The officers have since attended a pre-trial hearing on Feb. 23. Their trial is expected to begin later this year.
Both an external and Internal Affairs investigation found the officers at fault for Cox’s injuries. The investigations were conducted by the Connecticut State Police and NHPD respectively.
The 70-page Internal Affairs report found that the officers violated NHPD policy, and Jacobson recommended the removal of the four officers — Pressley retired while the investigation was ongoing — from the force in March.
The Board of Police Commissioners has not yet reached a decision on whether to fire the officers.