Randy Cox was sitting in the back of a New Haven, Conn., police van last week, having been arrested on a gun charge, when the vehicle suddenly stopped.
“Help,” the 36-year-old Black man groaned multiple times.
He remained in that position until he reached the detention center about eight minutes later, when officers dragged Cox out of the van, placed him in a wheelchair, ridiculed him about his posture and dragged him once more into a holding cell, according to body-camera footage. Cox was at the detention center for “10 to 15 minutes” before paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital, New Haven Police Department officials told reporters a day after the June 19 incident.
Now, Cox is paralyzed from his chest down and breathing on a ventilator, his attorneys and family members said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that Cox may never walk again.
“Randy Cox is lying in that hospital bed paralyzed from his chest down because of the actions — and the inactions — of the New Haven Police Department,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said.
This video is HORRIFIC! Randy Cox was put in a police van without seatbelts and, after an abrupt stop, was thrown into the wall HEAD FIRST. We literally witness his neck break! As he was STILL lying on the van floor, he told the officers that he couldn’t move. What did they do? pic.twitter.com/L9izx7vmDt
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) June 28, 2022
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker (D) said last week that Cox had injured his “neck and/or spine, which may potentially cause his paralysis.” At a separate Tuesday news conference, Elicker said the five officers involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave. The Connecticut State Police is investigating, he said.
Having watched the videos “many times,” Elicker called the officers’ treatment of Cox “awful.” But he “did not see malice on the part of the officers,” he said. “I saw some bad decisions, extreme lack of compassion.”
The circumstances of Cox’s severe injuries drew immediate parallels to the case of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old old Black man who in 2015 suffered a severe neck injury — and later died — after Baltimore police officers transported him in the back of a van in handcuffs and shackles, without a seat belt. The incident sparked protests, and six officers were charged with various crimes stemming from the incident, although none was convicted.
Cox’s case is “tragically similar,” Crump said, adding, “How many more times do we have to see Black people brutalized at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect and serve them?”
The van in which Cox was being transported did not have seat belts, assistant police chief Karl Jacobson told reporters last week.
Department officials said that around 7:30 p.m. on June 19, officers responded to a 911 call regarding a “weapons complaint” on Lilac Street in New Haven. An investigation led them to Cox, who was in possession of a handgun, Regina Rush-Kittle, the acting police chief, told reporters. Police arrested Cox on criminal possession of a firearm, possessing a gun without a permit, and breach of peace, she added.
While being taken into custody, Cox was being “uncooperative,” Rush-Kittle said. He was placed in the back of a transport van to be taken to a detention center about a nine-minute drive away, she said.
For the first minutes of the ride, video from inside the back of the van shows, Cox slammed his body on the walls of the van and, at one point, got on the ground and kicked the van’s back door. Cox had gotten back on the bench when the vehicle came to a sudden stop, causing him to slam into the van’s wall headfirst. Lying face down, Cox started crying for help, the video shows.
Body-camera footage of Officer Oscar Diaz, who officials said was driving the van, shows Diaz suddenly braking, honking the horn and appearing to make a frustrated hand gesture toward another driver. “A car went right in front of us, and we almost got hit,” Diaz said from behind the wheel as Cox could be heard moaning in pain. Rush-Kittle told reporters Diaz made an “evasive maneuver” to avoid a collision.
Diaz asked whether Cox was all right but kept driving for more than 3½ minutes before going to check on Cox, who was trying to tell Diaz that he had fallen, according to the video footage. “I can’t move,” Cox said multiple times.
When Diaz stopped the car to check on Cox, the 36-year-old said he could not move his arms. Diaz got back into the van and continued to the detention center, which was several minutes away. He told Cox that he had called an ambulance.
Jacobson, the assistant chief, said that department procedure is for officers to stop and wait for medical attention if someone they are transporting is injured.
At the detention center, a group of officers asked Cox what was wrong and he again said that he couldn’t move, according to body-camera footage. The officers proceeded to pull Cox out of the van, telling him to “move your leg” and “sit up.”
“I can’t move,” Cox said.
“You’re not even trying,” an officer replied.
After the officers dragged Cox’s prone body out of the van, they roughly placed him in a wheelchair, according to the footage.
In another room, one officer chided Cox for sitting “awkward” before suggesting Cox should sit up, the footage shows.
“If I could, I would,” Cox replied.
The officers then dragged Cox into a cell, where he waited a short time for an ambulance, which took him to the hospital, according to video footage and police officials.
Cox underwent emergency surgery on his neck, his family members said Tuesday. He had a second neck surgery three days later.
Crump said the footage of the incident “shocks my conscience.”
“Why didn’t they believe George Floyd when he said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 28 times? Why didn’t they believe Eric Garner he said, ‘I can’t breathe’ …” Crump said, referring to past victims of police brutality. “And why didn’t the New Haven police officers believe Randy Cox when he said, ‘I can’t move?’ ”