Cops Paralyzed a Black Man When They Arrested Him. They’re Finally Getting Charged.

Cox was put in a police van without a seatbelt, and after it stopped abruptly he told officers he couldn’t move or feel anything. They ignored his pleas.
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Body camera footage of Cox's arrest (New Haven Police Department)

The five New Haven Police Department police officers who were part of the arrest and transport that left a Black man paralyzed from the chest down in June will face misdemeanor reckless endangerment charges, Connecticut state prosecutors announced Monday.

The charges against officers Oscar Diaz, Jocelyn Lavandier, Ronald Pressley, Luis Rivera, and Sgt. Betsy Segui come after the Connecticut State Police concluded their five-month investigation into the arrest of Richard “Randy” Cox. The investigation found that the officers’ actions, and their failure to call for help once Cox arrived at the station, made them responsible for his injury. 

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Cox, 36, was arrested by New Haven police for possession of a firearm on June 19. Video released by the New Haven Police Department days after the incident showed that the officer transporting Cox to the police station failed to secure him with a seatbelt in the back of the patrol van. As the officer sped towards his destination while driving 11 miles per hour over the speed limit, he came to an abrupt stop, causing Cox to hurl head-first into the wall of the van. The injuries from the impact paralyzed him.

When the van arrived at the station, the officers’ mishandling of Cox continued: Cox told the officers he couldn’t move or feel anything, and they ignored his pleas and accused him of being drunk.

When he couldn’t respond to their orders for him to sit up and “stop playing games,” the cops tried loading Cox into a wheelchair, then carried him to a jail cell and placed him on the ground, police body camera footage shows. New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson said during a press conference earlier this year that protocol requires police to call for a medical professional if a suspect is injured. None of the officers handling Cox at the station called for immediate help after he arrived.

Cox ultimately sustained spinal injuries that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He has since regained slight movement in his arms, Cox’s attorney Jack O’Donnell told VICE News, but he can’t grip objects and uses a wheelchair.

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In June, all five officers were placed on administrative leave with pay. In September, with the help of civil rights attorney Ben Crump, Cox and his family filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city of New Haven, its police department, and the five officers. Crump compared Cox’s arrest gone wrong to that of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Black man who died in Baltimore police custody after suffering a fatal spine injury during an arrest in 2015. 

The lawsuit accused the New Haven officers of negligence, excessive force, denial of medical treatment, and causing emotional distress. Last month, Cox’s possession charges were dropped.

The officers were arrested Monday, but each was released on $25,000 bond, according to prosecutors. In addition to the charges, the department will decide whether the officers will face more discipline over their handling of the arrest.

“Mr. Cox’s legal team and family are grateful that the officers were arrested,” Donnell said. “The family would have preferred felony charges, but we understand the state’s attorneys thinking in charging as they did. So we’ll live with it and ensure that the officers are prosecuted to the full extent that the law allows.”

The state went with misdemeanor charges over felony charges because it fit the alleged crime most accurately, O’Donnell said.

“I respect [New Haven State Attorney] Jack Doyle, and I respect his decision,” O’Donnell said.

New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson told VICE News he has directed the department’s office of internal affairs to reopen its investigation into Cox’s arrest immediately. “I have authority to issue discipline up to a 15-day suspension and any recommendation beyond that must be referred to the New Haven Board of Police Commissioners, who would then ultimately decide on the appropriate discipline, up to and including termination,” Jacobson said in an emailed statement.

In a statement, Crump called the arrests “an important first step towards justice for Randy,” but said “we know there is more work to be done on his behalf. We will continue to fight for him throughout this process, and stand beside him as he navigates the long road toward recovery.”

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