Civil rights attorneys, police review footage of Black man paralyzed in back of Connecticut police van

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Authorities and civil rights lawyers are reviewing hours of law enforcement video footage after a Black man was seriously injured in a police van in Connecticut.

Richard “Randy” Cox, 36, is in intensive care, paralyzed from the chest down, said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Cox. He was being detained for processing on a weapons charge on June 19 when the police van’s driver braked suddenly to avoid a collision, causing Cox to hit his head, according to officials and video footage.  

Five members of the New Haven police department who were involved in the transport have been put on leave while the episode is investigated by state police.

What does police footage show?

Cox was handcuffed when he was in the back of the New Haven police van, which was not equipped with seat belts. 

About 30 seconds before the van abruptly stopped, footage shows Cox lying on the floor in the back of the vehicle trying to get up. He has difficulty doing so, apparently because he is handcuffed, the footage shows.

Video shows Cox eventually is able to get back into a seated position moments before Officer Diaz braked hard. The officer claimed he slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision, police said. 

External footage shows Diaz driving down a residential street and then honk the horn three times and motion to another vehicle, as a loud thud can be heard from the back of the police vehicle. 

Then Cox can be heard crying out for help and Diaz asks, “Are you alright?”

“That car went right in front of us; we almost got hit,” Diaz said to Cox as he continued driving.

Diaz then stopped the van three-and-a-half minutes later to open the back doors and check on Cox, who was lying motionless on the ground, with his left leg pinned against the wall. 

“I fell,” Cox said. “I can’t move.” 

Diaz then called paramedics and told them to meet him at the station, police said.

At the station, officers dragged Cox out of the van by his feet and put him in a wheelchair before booking him and placing him in a cell on the floor, the video shows.

Paramedics arrived minutes later and took Cox to a hospital, officials said.

Crump team plans to file suit

Crump said police mocked Cox’s cries for help and later dragged him by his feet from the van. 

His co-counsel, Jack O’Donnell, said the legal team expects to file a federal lawsuit within 60 days, once it has reviewed all the evidence, including more than two hours of video.

“I am here because when I looked at that video, it shocked my conscience,” Crump said. “And I believe when you all see that video, it’s going to shock your conscience. The only question is, why, when the police look at Randy Cox saying, ‘I can’t move,’ why doesn’t it shock their conscience?”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and acting Police Chief Regina Rush-Kittle said they are committed to being transparent with the facts. They have released all videos to the public and have given all evidence to state police, who have been called in to conduct an independent investigation, they said.

“I’ve watched the videos many times,” Elicker said. “I, in my own view, did not see malice on the part of the officers. I saw some bad decisions, an extreme lack of compassion. I think what we focus on, what we can control here in New Haven, that is ensuring that we have accountability in our city.”

Scot Esdaile, the president of the Connecticut branch of the NAACP, said he is not convinced the hard braking of the van was an accident.

“People from the community have been coming to us for years talking about how they torture people in the back of paddy wagons,” he said. “They put people in the back of the paddy wagon; they go real fast and then they slam the brakes.”

Elicker said last week that prisoner transport vans not equipped with seatbelts have been taken out of service and that the police department is working to install seatbelts in them. He said Tuesday that department will be also be implementing more training for officers in response to the incident.

Contributing: Associated Press