Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and civil rights leaders issued a call for justice Tuesday alongside the family of 36-year-old Randy Cox, partially paralyzed on June 19 while in the custody of New Haven police.
Cox — known as “Double R” for both “Richard” and “Randy” — was hospitalized and paralyzed from the waist down after police arrested him and transported him to the 1 Union Ave. lock-up on June 19. First a sudden braking by the officer driving a transport van (which had no seatbelts) above the speed limit caused Cox to fly headfirst against a wall, leaving him unable to move part of his body.
Then, at the detention center at police headquarters, officers forced him into a wheelchair, dragged him across the floor and placed him in a cell with his feet cuffed before an ambulance crew transported him to the hospital for surgery.
Cox repeatedly told officers he couldn’t move; they accused him of just being drunk and ordered him to move. He remains in the Yale New Haven Hospital St. Raphael campus, where he has undergone two neck surgeries and is attached to a feeding tube and a breathing tube, unable to speak.
Crump, known for his representation in high-profile cases like the police killing of George Floyd, issued the call with the family of Cox and with state NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile (who also serves as criminal justice chair of the national organization), Greater New Haven NAACP President Dori Dumas and State Rep. Robyn Porter at a press conference held on the steps of the Elm Street state courthouse.
“Justice for Randy” read placards held by supporters accompanying them.
“This is shocking. This is horrific. This is inhumane. We are better than this, New Haven. We are better than this, America. How many more times do we have to see Black people brutalized by the people who are supposed to protect them?” Crump declared.
“This is Freddie Gray on video. And all the world is watching, New Haven, Connecticut. Are you going to do the right thing? … Randy Cox’s life matters!”
The case has prompted a state investigation and the placing of five officers on administrative duty; city officials have expressed regret and promised to take more action to prevent an incident like this from recurring.
Crump is part of a legal team including, among others, local attorneys Jack O’Donnell and Michael Jefferson. The team will “fully explore every possible legal remedy to give full justice” to Cox and his family, Crump said.
Crump drew a direct parallel Tuesday between Cox’s case and George Floyd’s and said Cox will become the latest nationwide “hashtag” for “people brutalized by the police” and for calls for police reform.
“If we learned anything from the George Floyd trial, when you have a citizen in your custody, you have him in your care. I don’t know what it’s going to take for police officers around America to stop marginalizing people of color, especially Black people, when they say, ‘You are brutalizing us,’” Crump said.
“Why didn’t they believe George Floyd when he said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 28 times? Why didn’t they believe Eric Garner when he said, ‘I can’t breathe’ 19 times? And why didn’t the New Haven police officers believe Randy Cox when he said, ‘I can’t move’? … Why did they say, ‘You’re not even trying’? Why didn’t they follow the policies when he said, ‘I can’t move’?”
Crump said he and Esdaile posted a video of the Cox incident on social media Monday night. Overnight more than a million people viewed the video and 10,000 people posted outraged comments.
“He has a breathing tube in his mouth. He cannot speak for himself. He is paralyzed from his chest down. Even though he cannot move anything, he is sensing his reality that happened after those officers offered no professionalism,” Crump said.
Cox’s sisters Laquavius LeGrant, 39, and LaToya Boomer, 37, said she couldn’t finish watching the videos of how her brother was treated.
“Where’s the first aid training? Where’s the on the job training? Where’s the accountability?” she said. “Where’s the person who says, ‘Maybe he’s not joking? … Maybe he’s in distress?’ He’s laying on the floor saying … ‘Help, I think my neck’s broken.’”
She called for the officers involved to be fired and arrested.
Cox grew up in Newhallville and attended Lincoln-Bassett and Troup schools, she said.
“It’s really rough seeing him” during visits to the hospital, his sister said. “He can kind of nod his head yes and no. He can move his left arm. That’s about it.”
The attorneys said that doctors are “hopeful but not optimistic” that his condition would improve.
“I don’t want to keep seeing him in that hospital room,” said Cox’s mother, Doreen Coleman. “I want to see him in my house, asking if I need anything from the store.”
“We are going to get justice for him,” Coleman declared.
The NAACP’s Esdaile called for systemic change within the police department.
He noted that the police department stopped using transport vans without seatbelts in response to the Cox incident.
“They now have seat belts. That’s not adequate at this particular time. They knew about the situation with Freddie Gray. They watched cities burn across America. They knew about George Floyd. And they still didn’t put the proper protocols in place,” Esdaile said.
“People have been coming to us for years telling us for years how they torture people in the back of paddy wagons. This is the culture of the New Haven police department. The culture must change. We will not stop until justice is served.”
Police originally arrested Cox on a weapons charge at a Lilac Street block party. Attorney O’Donnell said the media has incorrectly called Cox a “convicted felon,” which he’s not. The state judicial database lists Cox as having convictions for several misdemeanors. In any case, O’Donnell and others said, the record is not relevant to how Cox was treated.
“This could have been anyone’s son that this happened to,” said Porter.
“Humanity is not negotiable,” said Newhallville Alder Devin Avshalom-Smith, calling for “institutional change in the way Black and brown people are treated in this city.”
Media outlets from across the state were joined at the press conference by residents of the Newhallville neighborhood, many of whom did not know Cox personally but said shock from the incident had reverberated through the neighborhood.
“Is this going to happen every summer to one of our Black men and women?” asked community activist Addie Kimbrough.
Crump called for “complete transparency” from the city about the incident and said he and his team are “ready” to meet with the mayor at any moment.