New Haven Police Department officers move Richard "Randy" Cox from a police transport van to a wheelchair after he suffered severe injuries leaving him paralyzed when the van had to make a sudden stop for an oncoming driver. New Haven PD

The death of Tyre Nichols last month at the hands of the Memphis police department is a tragedy that could have been prevented.

Watching the video, shades of Emmett Till and George Floyd crossed my mind as Tyre calls for his mother, struggling to catch his breath while being assaulted by the men responsible for keeping the peace. Yet his senseless death, along with many others at the hands of police, really hits home when considering the near-unanimous decision last month from Connecticut lawmakers to increase state police contracts starting pay by 10% .

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How can Connecticut in good conscience push to pay police officers more without ensuring greater accountability measures?

Lawmakers passed legislation on a pay increase to attract state police recruits, but at the same time, several are also readying bills to amend the police accountability legislation from 2020 after the death of George Floyd. In one effort,  State Rep. Greg Howard (R-Stonington) and Rep. Tammy Nuccio (R-Tolland), co-signed a bill to amend the law to restore a police officer’s ability to request consent to search a motor vehicle when the officer has “reasonable and articulable suspicion that weapons, contraband or other evidence of a crime is contained within a vehicle.”

In an email to The Day, Rep. Howard called the Memphis police officer’s actions “unconscionable,” but he rejected the argument that Tyre Nichols’ death highlights the need for more police accountability. He said that nowhere in Connecticut would that behavior occur.

The family of Randy Cox begs to differ.

On June 19 last year, Cox was arrested on miscellaneous charges (which were later dropped) that included a weapons charge. While he was being transported, the police van unexpectedly stopped and he fell head-first into the van wall while handcuffed . Cox was not wearing a seatbelt which could have prevented his trajectory, which instead caused permanent paralysis. The officers involved in his transport denied him proper medical attention, dismissing his claims of being hurt. Officers went as far as deflecting by asking Cox how much he had to drink.

Marisol Garcia
Marisol Garcia

Regardless of the circumstances of how Cox came to be in the police van, the actions of the New Haven police officers were depraved and only further prove the fact that police accountability needs to be improved nationally, including in Connecticut.

Some lawmakers argue that increased pay rates will result in a larger and more qualified applicant pool and provide state police leaders with more opportunities to improve the professionalism of their officers. House Majority leader Jason Rojas also pointed out that state police officers have different responsibilities than being a municipal police officer.

Further, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter stressed that the “qualified immunity” of the accountability law –where on paper rogue police officers could become liable in civil court if convicted of abusing suspects — was rare and extreme like in the case of George Floyd. As proven by the incidents involving Cox, Tyree Nichols, and Briana Taylor, these cases are not rare, but are becoming more the norm.

Tyre Nichols’ family lost a son and father due to the actions of the Memphis police department. Randy Cox is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  George Floyd, Briana Taylor… the names go on. Allowing police officers to continue to act without realistic accountability protocols in place drives further the divides within our country and state.

There are at least ten bills that are currently being readied in the legislature to repeal aspects of the police accountability law from 2020, with SB 827 leading the way to protect officers from so-called “frivolous” lawsuits. 

Police accountability is not frivolous, rather as recent events have shown us, it is a harsh necessity.

Marisol Garcia is a Member of the Connecticut Mirror Community Editorial Board.