A New Haven, Connecticut, Black man in custody is paralyzed from the neck down after police put him in the back of a prisoner transport van without a seatbelt and made an abrupt stop while driving.
Richard Cox, 36, is currently on a respirator and eating through a feeding tube, according to his attorney Jack O’Donnell.
Cox, 36, was arrested on June 19 over illegal possession of a firearm. As he was being transported to New Haven Police Headquarters in handcuffs for detention, the officer driving the van made an abrupt stop to avoid hitting a car, sending Cox careening head first into the van's back wall.
The incident, which was recorded on video, has stirred outrage from Cox’s family and members of the New Haven community, who question why Cox was placed in the vehicle without being safely strapped into a seat, and why the driver, officer Oscar Diaz, would hit the brakes as hard as he did knowing that.
“Randy Cox is lying in that hospital bed paralyzed from the chest down because of the actions and inactions of the New Haven Police Department,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Cox’s family, said in a press conference Tuesday. “When I look at that video it shocks my conscience.”
Video of the incident shared by Cox’s legal team on Twitter shows Cox lying on the ground kicking at the back door of the vehicle while it’s moving. Cox is then shown sitting on a small ledge before he is suddenly thrown towards the back of the van, head first. With his head jammed against the wall, Cox weakly calls for help.
In Diaz’s bodycam footage, a loud thud can be heard as Diaz leans on his horn and comes to a stop.
Diaz can be heard reporting the injury over the radio before checking on him.
“What happened?” he asks as he opens the back door. “Can you move at all? How is your leg all the way up there? I can’t move you. Hold on, I’m going to have to go get an ambulance.”
“I can’t move,” Cox responds. “I fall. I cannot move my arms.”
Diaz gets back into the car, and radios for an ambulance before driving toward police headquarters. When they arrive, three more officers talk to Cox, asking him to come out of the vehicle. Cox repeatedly tells them he can’t move before they all drag him from the back of the vehicle and sit him on the ground.
“You drank too much,” one of the officers tells Cox. “Sit up.”
“I can’t feel shit, bro,” Cox says as officers assist him into a wheelchair.
Officers repeatedly tell Cox to “sit up” and “stop playing around” as they process Cox, who continues to sit limply in the chair. The officers also ask him if he’s had any drugs or alcohol, which he denies. At one point he tells them his neck is broken.
Officers then drag Cox along the ground and into a jail cell.
“He’s perfectly fine. Want me to put these on him?” an officer says on police body camera video, gesturing to handcuffs.
The video ends with the officer placing handcuffs on his ankles before closing the cell.
According to Diaz’s body camera footage, Diaz was speeding, driving 11 mph over the 25 mph speed limit.
Diaz and the other officer who transported him, Sgt. Betsy Segui, as well as the officers who dragged Cox out of the van, have been placed on administrative leave, according to the New Haven Register.
At the press conference, Crump said Cox’s story bears a striking resemblance to the case of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Black man who died in Baltimore police custody after suffering a fatal spine injury. Although his death was ruled a homicide, the officers involved in Gray’s arrest avoided legal consequences.
“This is Freddie Gray’s case on video,” Crump said. “Thank God we have the video so they can’t deny what happened. They can’t deny that they had a man handcuffed and put him in the back of this paddywagon inappropriately.”
Cox’s sister, Latoya Boomer, also voiced her frustrations over how police treated her brother.
“I want to know where was the person that sees what’s going on and says, ‘Maybe he’s not joking, maybe he’s not drunk, maybe he is in distress,’” she said at the press conference. “Who would joke around like that?”
It’s standard protocol for police to wait for a medical unit if someone in their custody is in medical distress, New Haven PD Assistant Chief Karl Jacobson said at a news conference last week.
On behalf of the department, Jacobson told members of the community that the department is “going to do everything to get Randy justice.”
“This isn’t a proud moment for me or the police department,” he said at a meeting with the Connecticut NAACP on Tuesday. “We’re all disheartened by what happened and I want justice for Randy as well. We are going to work to make changes.”
Only one of New Haven’s three police transport vans had seatbelts at the time, according to the New Haven Register. Since last week, the department said all three will have seatbelts installed and officers will be mandated to use them when transporting people in their custody.
In a statement to VICE News, Officer Scott Shumway, the department’s public information officer, said it won’t comment further on the actual investigation.
“The Connecticut State Police is taking the lead on the criminal investigation into this matter, however the New Haven Police Department is committed to open and honest dialogue with the community and to making the necessary changes to ensure an incident like this never happens again,” Shumway said. “We continue to wish Mr. Cox a speedy and full recovery, and we continue to extend support to him and his family.”
This story has been updated to include comments from the New Haven Police Department.
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