CONNECTICUT, United States (AP) — The police chief in New Haven, Connecticut, recommended Tuesday that four officers be fired for mistreating a black man who became paralysed from the chest down last year in a police van that braked suddenly.
Police Chief Karl Jacobson's recommendations in the case of Richard "Randy" Cox now go to the city's police commissioners, who have the sole authority to fire officers. The commissioners are expected to hold hearings beginning in late April or early May, he said.
"The message to the community is that we will be transparent and we will be accountable, and we will hold our officers accountable," Jacobson said at a news conference at police headquarters. "The message to the officers is that this administration does have your back and that mistakes do happen, but we will not treat this community disrespectfully as happened in the Randy Cox situation."
Jacobson also announced that internal affairs investigations found the officers violated conduct rules on integrity, abiding by the law, trustworthiness, courtesy and respect.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Cox and his family, said they are encouraged the chief is recommending the officers be fired.
"These officers were sworn to protect their community, but they inflicted unnecessary and traumatising harm to Randy, who will pay the price for the rest of his life," Crump said in a statement.
An attorney for one of the officers said they were being used as scapegoats for the department's inadequate training and policies, and noted Jacobson said over 50 policies are under review to make sure what happened to Cox doesn't happen again.
The four officers — Oscar Diaz, Betsy Segui, Jocelyn Lavandier and Luis Rivera — also have been criminally charged on allegations they cruelly mistreated and neglected Cox on June 19, 2022, after he was injured in the back of a police van with no seat belts. He'd been arrest on gun and threatening charges, which were later dropped.
A fifth officer, Ronald Pressley, is charged with the same crimes. Jacobson said Pressley retired in January, so he cannot be disciplined.
Police have said the van driver, Diaz, was transporting Cox to police headquarters when he braked hard to avoid an accident. Cox, whose hands were handcuffed behind his back, slid head-first into the metal partition between the driver and passenger compartments, breaking his neck and leaving him paralysed from the chest down.
"I can't move. I'm going to die like this. Please, please, please help me," Cox said minutes after the crash, according to police video.
Diaz stopped a few minutes later to check on him, according to police video and officials. Cox was lying motionless on the floor and Diaz called paramedics. However, Diaz told them to meet him at the station instead of waiting for them — a violation of department policy, Jacobson has said.
At the station, some of the officers mocked Cox and accused him of being drunk and faking his injuries, according to surveillance and body-worn camera footage. Officers dragged Cox by his feet out of the van and placed him in a holding cell prior to his eventual transfer to a hospital.
The five officers have pleaded not guilty to second-degree reckless endangerment and cruelty to persons — misdemeanour charges criticised as too light by Cox's family and lawyers.
The case has drawn outrage from civil rights advocates like the NAACP, along with comparisons to the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Gray, who was also black, died in 2015 after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van.
Gregory Cerritelli, a lawyer for Segui, said the officers are "scapegoats" for the department's "inadequate training and policies".
"The entire process lacks fundamental fairness," Cerritelli said about the internal affairs investigations.
Lavandier's attorney, Dan Ford, said the chief's recommendation to fire her was "premature".
Cox is suing the officers and city for US$100 million in federal court for alleged negligence, excessive use of force, failing to provide immediate medical care, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.
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