This story has been updated.
New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson told reporters Tuesday that he will recommend the firings of four police officers who ignored Randy Cox’s calls for help in an incident last summer that left the Black man paralyzed from the chest down.
“If we gave Randy a voice that day when he said he was injured, we wouldn’t be here today,” Jacobson said. “If we treated him with dignity, we might not be here today. If we were neutral in our decision making when he said he was injured, we might not be here today.”
Officers Oscar Diaz, Betsy Segui, Jocelyn Lavandier and Luis Rivera will now have the opportunity to make their individual cases in front of the Board of Police Commissioners, a six-member body that will decide whether to follow through on the chief’s recommendation or take another course, which, for example, could include reducing their punishment to a suspension.
Jacobson said the hearings could happen as soon as late April.
Ronald Pressley, a fifth officer under scrutiny, has retired since the incident and therefore isn’t part of the recommendation. Two other officers will face suspensions for their “much smaller role” on the day of Cox’s injuries, though Jacobson didn’t specify who they were or what policies they violated.
[RELATED: Randy Cox was paralyzed in a New Haven police van. Here’s a timeline of the aftermath.]
The four officers facing possible termination remain on paid administrative leave.
Mayor Justin Elicker, in a press conference after Jacobson’s announcement, backed the chief’s decision, given that what happened “was totally unacceptable,” he said.
“When someone enters police custody, they deserve the dignity and respect, care and safety that any of us would want,” Elicker said. “And when Randy Cox was arrested, he entered a police van able to walk, and now he is not able to walk. We need to ensure that this never, ever happens again.”
Cox’s mother, Doreen Coleman, and his attorney, R.J. Weber, stood by silently as the mayor made remarks about the recommendation. In their own remarks, both said the occasion was only “one step in the process.”
“It was something that we were waiting for,” Coleman said.
As the process continues, Weber said, Cox’s loved ones hope the board will “do the right thing” by firing the officers.
Cox has not made a public appearance since he was injured last Juneteenth.
On the day celebrated to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people, he was arrested without incident and transported to a New Haven detention center in a police van unequipped with seatbelts.
Video from inside the van showed Cox crashing head-first into the vehicle’s wall and pleading for help almost immediately. Diaz, the person driving, stopped the speeding van to check on Cox but quickly returned to the front of the vehicle, called an ambulance and resumed driving without providing any assistance.
After arriving at the detention center, the officers dragged Cox out of the van by his feet as he remained mostly immobile and put him in a wheelchair. At various moments they told Cox to “get up,” “sit up,” and “stop playing around” as he slouched. Then they dragged him into a holding cell by his arms.
After the incident, the department announced revisions to its transport policy. Among the changes were requirements to secure people with seatbelts during transport, monitor the physical well-being of people during transport and call for or render aid to a person when they are in medical distress.
In September, Cox’s legal team, which includes national civil rights attorney Ben Crump, announced a $100 million federal lawsuit against the city and police department, claiming officer negligence and that Cox’s civil rights were violated.
Throughout the lawsuit’s proceedings, the officers have blamed Cox and medical EMTs for his injuries. Meanwhile, Diaz has cast blame on the unidentified driver who he said caused him to brake abruptly.
Diaz was traveling 11 miles per hour over the speed limit at the time of the abrupt stop, officials said.
The five officers are also part of an ongoing criminal case for the incident after New Haven state’s attorney Jack Doyle decided to pursue reckless endangerment and cruelty to persons charges. Both charges are considered minor.
On Tuesday, Jacobson and Manmeet Colon, the police lieutenant who oversaw the internal affairs investigation that led to the chief’s recommendation, said their inquiry included examining the videos from various angles, contacting city officials to ensure the department was following proper protocol and meeting with the officers, among other efforts.
In a statement, Crump expressed some optimism about the next step in the process.
“We are hopeful that the city and police department understand that their actions and lack thereof played a critical role in Randy’s permanent and life-changing condition,” Crump said. “These officers were sworn to protect their community, but they inflicted unnecessary and traumatizing harm to Randy, who will pay the price for the rest of his life.”
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP and an associate of Cox’s family, said the recommendation was a move in the right direction.
But he also compared it to the recent incident in Memphis that resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man. Nichols was brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers, all of whom were criminally charged and fired within weeks of the encounter.
By contrast, New Haven prosecutors took six months to bring charges, while it took police nine months to recommend the firings.
Jacobson partly attributed the duration of the investigation to not wanting to present a “half investigation” to the board of police commissioners. He also said the criminal charges inquiry by prosecutors and state police halted the internal affairs investigation for several months.
“As our ancestors have said in the past, justice delayed is justice denied,” Esdaile said. “We hope and pray that the police commissioner does the right thing in making sure that Randy Cox’s family gets justice now.”
Cox currently resides in a long-term care facility. His home can’t accommodate a wheelchair, Weber said. Coleman said her son remains “in good spirits,” and that “he can’t wait to go outside” once the weather improves.
At the state level, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would provide any person who experiences an emergency medical condition while in police custody the right to receive emergency medical services.
Clarification: A previous version of this story was unclear about how long it took for the New Haven police chief to make his recommendation to fire the officers. The recommendation came nine months after Randy Cox sustained his injuries.