Attorneys for Randy Cox, paralyzed in New Haven police van, plan federal lawsuit
Attorneys for Richard “Randy” Cox, the Black man left paralyzed from the chest down after his body was hurled around the rear of a New Haven police van with no seatbelts, said they are preparing to file a federal civil lawsuit against the officers involved and the city of New Haven, claiming negligence and violations of Cox’s civil rights.
Cox’s family, joined by some of the NAACP’s Connecticut chapters and his legal team, which includes civil rights attorney Ben Crump, said that they will likely file the lawsuit in the next seven to 10 days. It’s unclear what Cox is seeking in financial damages.
“This never should have happened,” Crump said at the gathering Thursday on the front steps of New Haven City Hall. “You all have the ability to do the right thing by Randy Cox, and I pray that you will. If not, this family is prepared to go all the way.”
The New Haven resident’s loved ones also urged officials to fire and bring criminal charges against officers Oscar Diaz, Betsy Segui, Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavandier and Luis Rivera — all of whom are currently under investigation by the state police and on paid administrative leave. Cox wasn’t present at the gathering due to a recent decline in his health, according to his family, most notably an infection and a fever.
A lawsuit would place the city on the defense against a cadre led by Crump, the notable civil rights attorney only a year removed from a $27 million settlement stemming from the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Crump, often dubbed “America’s Black Attorney General,” has recovered millions of dollars from cities and police departments deemed liable for brutality against Black people.
“I think we’re all expecting a lawsuit,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said in a later press conference. “What to me is important is that we keep the best interest of the entire city in mind. And that is, in part, ensuring that we respond to the lawsuit appropriately, but in large part making sure that we do the right thing to ensure this incident never happens again.”
The state’s attorney is considering whether to file charges. The city of New Haven has also vowed to conduct an internal investigation, and Cox’s family has called on federal authorities to look into the incident.
The announcement of the upcoming lawsuit comes nearly three months after Cox — initially arrested on weapons charges — was injured and more than two months after the New Haven Police Department announced revisions to its policy for transporting people accused of crimes.
A video from inside the van showed Cox sliding head-first into a wall in the back of the vehicle as it came to an abrupt stop. The 36-year-old Black man pleaded for help almost immediately after his head rammed into the van’s wall. Diaz, the officer behind the wheel, stopped the van to check on Cox but quickly returned to the front of the vehicle, called an ambulance and kept driving without providing Cox any assistance.
Upon arrival at the New Haven detention center, officers dragged Cox out of the van by his feet as he remained mostly immobile and placed him in a wheelchair. At various moments they told Cox to “get up,” “sit up,” and “stop playing around” as he slouched. They then dragged him into a holding cell, cuffed his ankles and left him on the floor.
The officers were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident. The city has since updated its policy, underscoring requirements for officers to place seat belts on people transported in police vehicles, monitor the physical well-being of people during transport and call for or render aid to a person when they are in medical distress. Cox’s family has in turn publicly questioned why it takes so much for police to listen to and help someone who says they need it.
“In the end, I need them to be fired and then arrested,” LaToya Boomer, Cox’s older sister, told The Connecticut Mirror. “Them getting back on the road and being able to do stuff for other people, no, that’s not acceptable. At some point, in your brain, you have to say, ‘Something is not right.’”
While advocates and supporters in attendance held signs and often shouted their desire for Cox to receive justice, Doreen Coleman, Cox’s mother, locked her hands on a poster displaying a selfie of her son smiling, sporting an orange shirt and gold chain. He’s always been a happy and fun person, she said.
“I’m still trying to process it,” Coleman said. “I want the public to know that the people that did all of this extra stuff to him do need to be punished, do need to be understanding that Randy can’t do what he used to do. I want them to say, ‘I apologize for what happened to you or how I treated you.’”
The demonstration took place more than two years after a white police officer murdered George Floyd by kneeling on the Black man’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, an act that would serve as a catalyst for a historic wave of protests across the world against American law enforcement’s disproportionate mistreatment of people of color, including in Connecticut.
After Floyd’s murder, Governor Ned Lamont signed a police accountability bill into law, sparking discontent among state Republicans and police. The law mandated body and dashboard cameras for any officer interacting with the public, banned tactics that interfere with oxygen flow, created an Independent Office of the Inspector General to head use-of-force investigations and eliminated government immunity for officers not “objectively” acting in good faith.
And last month, Connecticut released a use-of-force report with statistics from many of the state’s police departments in accordance with a mandate established in 2019. Though hampered by incomplete data, the report revealed that Black people made up 38% of those subjected to police force between 2019 and 2020, despite being only 13% of the state’s population. New Haven — Connecticut’s third most populous city, in which Black people make up 33% of its residents — recorded 56 use-of-force incidents.
The situation involving Cox is tied to a long history of police using “rough rides” to intimidate people accused of crimes, advocates said, similar to the 2015 events that led to Freddie Gray’s death, a Black man from Baltimore who was placed in the back of a police van without a seatbelt and sustained severe neck injuries.
It also shares some similarities to the circumstances surrounding the death of De’Sohn Wilson, a Black man who in 2020 committed suicide in the New Haven detention center.
Segui — the police supervisor currently suspended for her role in the Cox incident — received a five-day suspension at the time of Wilson’s death, “largely because she had failed to assign her officers mandatory every-15-minutes cellblock walking tours during the night” he killed himself, according to the New Haven Independent. Segui also ignored Wilson’s earlier calls for medical help.
“This was so preventable,” Crump said about Cox in an interview with the CT Mirror. “Go back and look at that video. Look at how they treated him when he got to that police station. I mean, that’s the reprehensible thing. I keep saying, 'What’s worse than what happened on the paddy wagon is what happened at the police station: Ain’t nothing wrong with you,’ and to find out that they have a history of doing this.”