Lawyers and family members of paralyzed New Haven man in police custody call for justice and humanity – Hartford Courant
NEW HAVEN – The message was humanity. Their signs called for justice, but their words called for humanity.
Family members, legal counsel, local government and NAACP members gathered on the steps outside New Haven Superior Court on Church Street on Tuesday morning to demand justice for Richard “Randy” Cox, who was paralyzed while in police custody in June. 19. They held up signs reading “Justice for Randy Cox” in different variations, many with a photo of him accompanying the message.
Now his family and attorneys are demanding accountability from those involved and changes from the New Haven Police Department.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing the 36-year-old New Haven man and his family. Crump has worked on numerous high-profile cases of police brutality and wrongful death, representing the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and many others.
“I’m here because when I watched this video it shocked my conscience,” Crump said. “And I believe when you all see this video, it will shock your conscience. The only question is, why would the police look at Randy Cox and say, “I can’t move”, why doesn’t that shock their conscience?
Crump asked why the officer didn’t “give him the benefit of humanity” while he was in their custody.
As Cox was being transported following an arrest, New Haven Police Officer Oscar Diaz made a sudden stop to avoid an accident. The stop threw Cox against the wall of the transport van headfirst, according to video footage of the incident released by police.
There were no seat belts in the vehicle, only buckles and a bar to hold the handcuffs on.
Diaz stopped to check on him, then called for medical attention, but drove to the detention center to meet them. Protocol for an injured inmate is to stop and wait there for medical treatment.
Then, upon arriving at the facility a few minutes later, Diaz described the incident to Sgt. Betsy Segui. Detention center officers pulled Cox out of the van and restrained him because he could not move. They put him in a wheelchair and treated him, police said. Then Cox slid out of the wheelchair and told officers he thought he had broken his neck. Officers picked him up and carried him by the arms to a holding cell, where emergency services arrived and provided assistance shortly thereafter.
He was then taken to Yale New Haven for surgery, police said.
Five police officers have been placed on paid leave while investigations are ongoing. Diaz and Segui were placed on leave last Tuesday following the incident. Officers Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavandier and Luis Rivera were also placed on paid leave last Thursday, according to New Haven Acting Chief Regina Rush-Kittle. All three were present at the detention center and involved in the treatment of Cox.
Cox is on a breathing tube and is currently paralyzed from the chest down, Crump said. He has a bit of movement in his left arm, his sister LaToya Boomer said at the press conference.
“We’re going to get justice for him,” Cox’s mother, Doreen Coleman, said.
Boomer called the department to account and called his treatment a “disgrace.” She also said the officers involved should be fired and any witnesses who did not stop their conduct should be suspended and retrained.
“Everyone is watching New Haven, Connecticut,” Crump said. “And you’re going to do the right thing?” Or are you going to do what is traditionally done to black people when they’ve been brutalized by the police and try to act like they don’t matter? Well, we matter, and Randy Cox’s life matters.
Lawyer Louis Rubano said a freedom of information request for the release of documents and certain videos not yet released has been filed. A trial will take place within the next 60 days, he said.
Scot X. Esdaile, a New Haven native and national board member of the NAACP, called for a cultural change within the New Haven Police Department and a comprehensive action plan.
New Haven officials said they are working to make changes.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” New Haven Deputy Chief Karl Jacobson said during a press conference with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and Rush-Kittle later Tuesday.
Jacobson said if criminal charges were necessary, the department would proceed with the arrest of its officers. The case is currently being investigated by the Connecticut State Police.
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Elicker pointed to some of the things the department has done, including furloughing officers, notifying the public of the incident within 24 hours and releasing video footage of it within 48 hours, refuting an earlier claim that other videos had not yet been released. He said all videos have been released at this point. He also said the police department has also taken vehicles without seat belts offline until they come up with a new transportation plan.
“What happened to Mr. Cox was just terrible and totally unacceptable,” Elicker said Tuesday. He added that the officers’ conduct fell short of the “high standards” the department holds itself to.
Elicker said the police department is cooperating fully with the state police investigation. Once that investigation is complete, his own internal investigation will begin, he said.
Elicker said they’re looking to implement new training to give officers “tools” to help them intervene when other officers aren’t doing the right thing.
“I did not, in my opinion, see any malice on the part of the officers. I saw poor decisions and an extreme lack of compassion,” Elicker said.
He said the city is “very, very open” to helping support the family in any way they can.
Rush-Kittle said they cannot comment further on the incident until state police complete their investigation. She said the department welcomes conversations from the community about how to prevent this in the future.