5 Conn. officers charged in case of man paralyzed in police van

"It's hard to see officers charged but it's also what we've been talking about from the beginning. We need to be accountable, period," Chief Karl Jacobson said


By Ed Stannard
Hartford Courant

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Five New Haven police officers turned themselves in to state police Troop F in Westbrook Monday in the case of a man who was paralyzed in a New Haven police van on June 19.

The New Haven Police Department was transporting Richard “Randy” Cox as a prisoner to a detention facility when Officer Oscar Diaz hit the brakes and Cox was thrown head first into the front of the rear compartment.

The officers are charged with cruelty to persons, a class D felony, and second-degree reckless endangerment, a class B misdemeanor, according to state police.

After a lengthy investigation, arrest warrants were submitted for the arrests of Diaz, Officer Ronald Pressley, Officer Jocelyn Lavandier, Officer Luis Rivera and Sgt. Betsy Segui, state police said.

Each of the five arrested have posted a $25,000 bond and are scheduled to appear at Superior Court in New Haven on Dec. 8.

New Haven State’s Attorney John P. Doyle Jr. requested the State Police Central District Major Crime Unit to investigate the injury to Cox, state police said.

Cox was paralyzed from the neck down June 19 after he was arrested at a block party on Lilac Street in the Newhallville section on New Haven, handcuffed and put into a police transport van. Charges against Cox, who allegedly was carrying a gun when he was arrested, have been dropped.

Lawyers for Cox in September filed a $100 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of New Haven and the five police officers involved in transporting him and putting him in the department lockup on June 19. Diaz and Segui were in the van; the others were at the lockup.

“The city of New Haven is committed to accountability,” Mayor Justin Elicker said at a City Hall press conference about the arrests. “I’m glad to see the process moving forward to see that justice is served.”

Now that the arrests have been made, Police Chief Karl Jacobson will begin an internal affairs investigation into the case and will decide on discipline of the officers, which could include firing them.

“I have full confidence in chief Jacobson and the Police Department Office of Internal Affairs to ensure that this investigation is done fairly and professionally and in a timely manner,” Elicker said.

“These arrests are part of our accountability and transparency process,” Jacobson said. He said he respects the state’s attorney’s decision as to which charges to bring against the five officers.

“It’s hard to see officers charged but it’s also what we’ve been talking about from the beginning,” Jacobson said. “We need to be accountable, period. … You cannot treat people the way Mr. Cox was treated.”

R.J. Weber, one of Cox’s lawyers, said “We’re pleased to see the state’s attorney’s office and the criminal justice system at work.”

He said Cox has small improvements in his arm movement but his condition is essentially unchanged. “His life since June, Juneteenth, has been irreparably altered,” Weber said.

He said the legal team’s work is the lawsuit against the city. “It’s not our position to determine whether these charges are enough or not,” Weber said.

He said he received a text message from Cox’s sister, LaToya Boomer, who was glad the charges were filed.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, another member of the legal team, issued a statement, which said, “While today’s news that these officers will face some accountability is an important first step towards justice for Randy, we know there is more work to be done on his behalf. We will continue to fight for him throughout this process, and stand beside him as he navigates the long road toward recovery.”

Corporation Counsel Patricia King said the discovery process for the lawsuit is moving forward, but that each plaintiff has a lawyer, so it takes time. Elicker said a settlement is a possibility

The New Haven Police Department swore in 19 new officers on Monday, Jacobson said. He said it was a diverse class and that “we’ve made lots of improvements in training.”

The affidavit in Diaz’s arrest contains a transcript of he and Cox speaking after Cox was injured, starting at 8:36 p.m. June 19. According to the transcript, Cox continually yells “help” and says he can’t move, while Diaz says he would call for an ambulance once they get to police headquarters.

The transcript continues that at 8:40, after pulling over on College Street, Diaz opens the rear door of the van. A minute later, Diaz “closes the rear door of the transport van as Cox again asks him to please help. Officer Diaz never entered the rear of the transport van and failed to render any medical attention to Cox as he remained lying on the floor face down.”

Cox keeps asking for an ambulance, saying ‘Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. ... I’m going to die like this.”

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