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Rally demands federal civil rights probe into Black man paralyzed in New Haven police custody

High-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks to a crowd of community activists Friday prior to a march through downtown New Haven in support of Randy Cox.
Michael Lyle, Jr.
High-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks to a crowd of community activists Friday prior to a march through downtown New Haven in support of Randy Cox.

A large crowd of community activists, led by high-profile civil rights attorney Ben Crump, marched down the city's Dixwell Avenue almost two miles to the steps of the New Haven police station, demanding justice for Randy Cox.

On June 19, Cox, 36, was handcuffed in the back of a police van without access to a seat belt after he was arrested on a weapons charge.

The driver, Officer Oscar Diaz, slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision, and Cox slammed against the back door of the van. The incident paralyzed Cox from the chest down. He remains hospitalized in intensive care.

“We want to make sure that everyone that’s in these peaceful positions of authority understand that the community is not tolerating this,” said Connecticut NAACP President Scot Esdaile, who helped organize the march. “There is zero tolerance for this type of behavior. It has to stop here in New Haven and it has to stop across America.”

The incident is is reminiscent of the death of Freddie Grey, a 25-year-old Black man who died from a spinal injury sustained in the back of a Baltimore police van in 2015.

Crump and the Cox family said they are seeking federal civil rights charges against the officers.
“We will be right here for Randy Cox demanding justice today, everyday, tomorrow, next week, next month until we get justice for Randy Cox,” Crump, who represented George Floyd's family, said from the steps of the police station.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker also attended the march. He said the police department is working on police transport reforms.

But he also said systemic changes are needed within the police department.

“This is not about seat belts, this is about something much, much bigger," Elicker said. “It’s about how to change the culture in the police department so we eliminate cynicism, that we eliminate the kind of callousness that I believe that I saw in those videos.”

Five New Haven officers remain on leave while state police continue an independent investigation.

Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney General’s office is watching the case closely.

What are police transport reforms

The city of New Haven unveiled on Thursday proposed changes to police department policy in the wake of Cox's injuries.

Before the rally, the mayor said the injury made reforms a top priority for the city’s new police chief.

“What happened to Mr. Cox was unacceptable," Elicker said. "And we’re committed to making these necessary changes for the city of New Haven, for the family and for the police department.”

Among other measures, the city will require seat belts for all prisoners, require police transport vehicles to observe the speed limit, and require officers to call for emergency medical services if prisoners appear to need medical attention.

Karl Jacobson, a 15-year veteran, was sworn in as police chief earlier this week. Jacobson said the city would prioritize police cruisers over vans.

"We arrest less people. When transport vans were put into fruition years and years ago, there were more arrests, so there was more need for it," Jacobson said. "There’s a definite need for it on bringing people to court, and, say a mass arrest situation, which might be multiple warrants in the same location.”

Mike Lyle is a former reporter and host at WSHU.
Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.