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Judge rejects officers’ bid to erase charges in the case of a man paralyzed after police van ride

By The Associated Press - | Mar 29, 2024

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Four former Connecticut police officers accused of mocking and mistreating a man after he was paralyzed in the back of a police van in 2022 were denied bids Thursday to enter a program that could have erased criminal charges against them and let them avoid trial.

A judge rejected the former officers’ applications for accelerated rehabilitation, citing the seriousness of Richard “Randy” Cox’s injuries. The program, generally for first-time offenders accused of low-level crimes, requires successfully completing probation.

“The resulting injuries to the victim are of such a serious nature that the court feels that precludes participation in the program,” Superior Court Judge Gerald Harmon said.

The four former New Haven officers, Oscar Diaz, Betsy Segui, Ronald Pressley and Luis Rivera, are charged with misdemeanors of negligent cruelty to persons and reckless endangerment. All four declined to comment after the hearing. Their lawyers said they disagreed with the judge’s decision. A fifth officer, Jocelyn Lavandier, faces the same charges and also applied for the probation program, but was not at the hearing as her case was postponed until May.

Cox, now 38, was paralyzed from the chest down June 19, 2022, when a police van he was riding in braked hard to avoid a collision, sending him head-first into a metal partition. His hands were cuffed behind his back and the van had no seat belts. Cox had been arrested on charges of threatening a woman with a gun, which were later dismissed.

“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, the officer driving the van, stopped and checked on Cox, according to police reports, then called for emergency medical staff and told them to meet him at the police station.

Once at the station, officers mocked Cox and accused him of being drunk and faking his injuries, according to surveillance and body-worn camera footage. Officers dragged Cox from the van by his feet and placed him in a holding cell prior to his eventual transfer to a hospital. His family says officers may have exacerbated Cox’s injuries by moving him around.

Cox and New Haven State’s Attorney John Doyle Jr. opposed the officers’ applications to the probation program. Cox remains upset that the officers were not charged with felonies, said his lawyer, Jack O’Donnell.

“He’s been left with a permanent injury and he finds it audacious of the officers to try to avoid even a permanent record,” O’Donnell told the judge. “His life is no longer going to be enjoyable, and the fact that these officers can come forward and indicate that this is not a crime of too serious a nature is something that offends him deeply.”

Lawyers for the officers argued Thursday that Cox’s injuries happened before he got to the police station and they cited a medical opinion that the officers’ actions did not exacerbate the injuries. The attorneys also said Cox appeared to be intoxicated and the officers were not aware of the extent of his injuries at the time.

Four of the five officers were fired last year. The fifth, Pressley, retired. A state board in January overturned Diaz’s firing, but the city is appealing that decision. After Thursday’s ruling, their criminal cases will now move toward trial.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and Police Chief Karl Jacobson said in a statement that the officers must be held criminally accountable.

“The treatment of Mr. Cox while in the custody of the New Haven Police Department was completely unacceptable,” they said. “No one is above the law and we believe the ruling by Judge Harmon was the right one. It allows these officers to go through the criminal process and to receive a fair and impartial trial by a jury of their peers for the criminal charges they face related to this incident.”

Cox’s supporters, including his family and the NAACP, have criticized prosecutors for not bringing felony charges.

Supporters have compared his case to what happened to Freddie Gray, a Black man who died in 2015 in Baltimore after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van. Cox is Black. All five officers accused of mistreating him are Black or Hispanic.

New Haven settled a lawsuit by Cox for $45 million.

Cox did not attend Thursday’s hearing. O’Donnell said travel is complicated and painful for him.

After Cox was injured, city police announced reforms, including making sure all prisoners wear seat belts. The state Legislature last year approved a new law spurred by the Cox case that would require seat belts for all prisoners being transported in Connecticut.


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