New Haven officials announce reforms after man paralyzed in police van
Officials in New Haven, Connecticut, announced prisoner transport and detention reforms Thursday in response to a police van driver braking suddenly while transporting a man in the back of the van, sending him flying headfirst into a metal wall of the vehicle and paralyzing him.
Mayor Justin Elicker and police Chief Karl Jacobson outlined new policies and training during a news conference, one day after having met with Richard "Randy" Cox and his family at a local hospital. Cox is paralyzed from the waist down and has trouble talking, his lawyers and city officials said.
"I want to reiterate that what happened to Mr. Cox is unacceptable and we're committed to making these necessary changes," Elicker said. "Yesterday, seeing Mr. Cox in his condition really brings home why it's so important for us to take action to correct what happened."
What happened to Cox, 36, on June 19 has sparked outrage from his family and civil rights advocates including the NAACP, and has drawn comparisons to the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, died in 2015 after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van. Cox is also Black.
The reforms announced Thursday include eliminating the use of police vans for most prisoner transports and using marked police vehicles instead, requiring officers to immediately call for an ambulance to respond to their location if the prisoner requests or appears to need medical aid, a review of detention center policies, random checks of detention area personnel's body cameras and department-wide training on several related topics.
City officials are inviting residents to several planned town hall-style discussions on police department issues, with the first one scheduled for July 14. They also say several steps already have been taken in response to what happened to Cox, including requiring officers to ensure prisoners are wearing seat belts.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP chapter, said the announced reforms are a good first step, but more needs to be done.
"They still need to deal with the police culture of those officers dragging him out of the van ... and also dragging him into the police department and slamming him down in the cell with a broken spine," Esdaile said in a phone interview. "That's more deep-rooted than the policies that they're recommending."
Five members of the New Haven Police Department who were involved in the transport and detention of Cox have been placed on paid leave pending a state police investigation.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump was in New Haven last week, announcing he will be leading the legal fight on behalf of Cox and calling for a federal civil rights investigation. A "March for Justice" for Cox by his family, NAACP chapters and other supporters is planned for Friday afternoon in New Haven.
Vanessa Roberts Avery, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, said in a statement Wednesday that her office is monitoring the investigations into what happened to Cox and will take action if warranted.
Cox was arrested on a weapons charge June 19. While handcuffed in the back of the van, which had no seat belts, he flew headfirst into the wall between the cab and back of the van when Officer Oscar Diaz braked hard to avoid a collision, police said.
Diaz resumed driving to the police department, despite Cox calling for help and saying he was injured and couldn't move, according to police videos and officials. A few minutes later, Diaz stopped the van to check on Cox, who was lying motionless on the floor.
Diaz then called paramedics but told them to meet him at the station instead of waiting for them where he was, a violation of policy, police officials said. Diaz has not returned messages seeking comment.
At the station, officers dragged Cox out of the van by his feet and put him in a wheelchair, police video shows. Police then booked Cox, took him out of the wheelchair and dragged him into a cell, where he was left on the floor. The videos also show officers telling Cox to move despite him showing signs of paralysis.
Paramedics arrived minutes later and took Cox to a hospital, officials said.