(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) — The man who became paralyzed from the chest down while handcuffed in police custody has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of New Haven and New Haven Police Department officers for $100 million.
According to the lawsuit, Randy Cox, 36, was sitting handcuffed, but otherwise unrestrained, in the back seat of a police van on June 19 when Officer Oscar Diaz abruptly hit the brakes. Former acting police chief Regina Rush-Kittle said in June that this was an evasive maneuver to avoid an accident. Cox was thrown across the back of the van and immediately could not move his body, the lawsuit said.
Cox’s family and his attorneys said the injuries sustained in the vehicle and the alleged neglect from other officers have left him unable to care for himself and leaves him with little opportunity to earn a living for the rest of his life.
“We think that there is no value that can replace the damages and the hurt and the harm and the mental anguish and the torture that he’s endured every day, every hour, every minute, every second, every second of his life,” attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family, said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon announcing the lawsuit. “We did not have to file this lawsuit to tell you why the city needs to do the right thing.”
Crump said at least $20-30 million is necessary to maintain Cox’s “basic quality of life.”
Video of the incident released by police showed Cox was handcuffed but not secured by a seatbelt in the back of a police van when a sudden stop caused him to fall headfirst into the van wall. Cox had been arrested and charged with criminal possession of a firearm and breach of peace. As of Tuesday, these charges are still active and awaiting a plea.
After he was “violently thrown” across the van, Cox shouted that he was hurt. Oscar Diaz, the officer who the suit alleges negligence; recklessness; excessive force; denial of medical treatment; and failure to provide medical assistance, said he couldn’t pull over immediately, but did so two minutes later, according to the complaint. Diaz then called 911 so an ambulance could meet them at the detention center.
After arriving at the detention center, before the ambulance arrived, Diaz and other officers removed Cox from the back of the transport wagon, the suit said.
At the center, Cox “indicated several times that he could not move and he thinks he broke his neck,” the suit said. Despite Cox’s plea, the suit said the officers attempted to move him and “place him in a wheelchair to be processed and eventually dragged him to a cell by his shoulder while still in handcuffs.”
Body camera footage shows New Haven officers dragging Cox out of the van, moving him into a wheelchair and asking him, “How much did you have to drink?” followed by statements like, “He is perfectly fine.”
Cox’s sister LaToya Boomer said at a press conference on Tuesday that she wonders how her brother, who was readmitted to the hospital Tuesday for bedsores, would have been progressing had he not been moved so much, or at all, after he was thrown from his seat in the van.
“We don’t want any lip service, we want action,” she said. Boomer called for criminal charges to be raised against officers, saying she wants those responsible for her brother’s injuries to be “fired and arrested.”
Doreen Coleman, Cox’s mother, has taken on the role of her son’s primary caregiver son after the incident. She asked officers to hold themselves accountable for their actions. “Own up to it,” she said at the press conference.
The named defendants, officers Diaz, Betsy Segui, Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavandier, and Luis Rivera, are currently on leave, pending the results of a state investigation into their actions, police said.
Segui declined ABC News’ request for comment; Pressley, Lavandier, and Rivera have not responded. Diaz was not able to be reached.
“I’m not gonna say what those officers felt, but it seems like they thought he was intoxicated. So they weren’t taking his claims as legitimate,” New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson said in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday. “We as a police department, especially [with] someone in custody, need to take everybody’s claims legitimately, and build that legitimacy with the community.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker told ABC News that, pending the outcome of the investigation, discipline for officers could potentially include being fired. The lawsuit did not come as a surprise for Jacobson and Elicker, who have spoken with Cox’s family, attorneys, and spent time with Cox.
“We are deeply committed to making sure something like this never happens again, and also to ensure that Randy gets justice. And we’ve implemented a lot of different policies, training in the police department to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Elicker said. “We’ll continue to talk with our attorneys [throughout] this process.”
“What happened to Randy was not right. We’re doing everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else. And that’s all we can do,” Jacobson said. “We can take the next right step and I feel like we’re doing that to make you know, this such a terrible situation a better situation where, you know, Randy can move on in his life and have what he needs, and we can fix the wrongs in the police department so that this doesn’t happen again.”
The Connecticut State Police are still investigating the incident.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department said it was closely watching the investigation into the circumstances that left Cox paralyzed.
“All suspects taken into police custody must be afforded timely and appropriate medical care in the event of an emergency,” said U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery in a statement in July. “If federal action is warranted, the Justice Department will pursue every available avenue to the full extent of the law.”
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