“If federal action is warranted, the Justice Department will pursue every available avenue to the full extent of the law.”
Those are the words of Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery in reference to the case of Richard “Randy” Cox, who was paralyzed and hospitalized after being taken into custody by the New Haven Police Department on June 19.
Avery made the statement on the same day Karl Jacobson, a longtime veteran of the New Haven Police Department, was sworn in as the new police chief in the Elm City.
Jacobson said he plans to focus less on arrests and tickets, more on connecting with the community, preventing crimes, practicing accountability and building trust at a time when the department faces an investigation. It’s also facing the rightful public outcry over the severe injuries suffered by Randy Cox.
Connecticut State Police are investigating the case and Avery said her agency will coordinate with them and “our other law enforcement partners at the state and federal levels.”
Avery is right to let the public know she is closely monitoring the investigations into the circumstances that left Cox hospitalized and right to note that “all suspects taken into police custody must be afforded timely and appropriate medical care in the event of an emergency.”
In this case, while Cox was being taken in following his arrest, a New Haven police officer apparently made a hard stop to avoid a crash. That threw Cox into the wall of the transport van headfirst, according to video from the incident released by police.
Even worse, while the officer pulled over to check on Cox and called for medical attention, the officer didn’t follow protocol and drove to the detention facility instead of waiting for help. Cox was pleading for help.
Officers took Cox out of the van, holding him as he couldn’t move, put him in a wheelchair and processed him, police have said and the video shows. And after Cox slid from the wheelchair and told officers he thought his neck was broken, officers picked him up and carried him by his arms to a holding cell, where emergency services arrived and provided aid.
The scenario as described and seen on the video makes anyone with any first aid training want to scream: What about neck and head injuries and not moving a person if you suspect one?
And there is something else here that is beyond belief: There were no seat belts in the New Haven vehicle, just loops and a bar to hold onto while handcuffed.
Seat belts are made to prevent exactly the kind of injury Cox suffered. They are made to protect people riding in a moving vehicle, and there is nothing this police department or any police agency could say that would provide an excuse for the lack of seat belts in any vehicle used to transport a detained person.
Randy Cox deserved that protection.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Cox and his family. They will seek justice for Cox.
Avery said her “prayers are with” Cox and his family.
Avery said she thinks Jacobson and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker “acted expeditiously and reported publicly on some actions already taken” by that city, including suspending several officers and a “commitment to reform NHPD practices.”
New Haven then announced Thursday a series of reforms that will include the use of seat belts for all detainees “in any transport vehicle.” There is a stated exception and “approval requirements” for when “a prisoner is combative or officer safety considerations make doing so impractical.”
But one of the reform moves should be statewide — nationwide even — and include adding seat belts to any vehicle any police department uses, and no vehicle should be used to transport arrestees until this is done.