Black man paralysed with broken neck after police van driver suddenly braked

‘What happened is unacceptable and it’s inexcusable,’ said Randy Cox’s older sister about the incident that has left him paralysed from the chest down

Johanna Chisholm
Monday 04 July 2022 18:26 BST
Black man thrown head-first in back of police van after abrupt stop

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump has said that he’ll be leading the charge in the legal battle for Randy Cox, a Black man who was seriously injured while being transported in the back of a police van in Connecticut when the driver braked suddenly.

On Tuesday, the lawyer joined Mr Cox’s family in a press conference in front of the New Haven Superior Court, alongside the team’s co-counsel, Jack O’Donnell and Louis Rubano, and civil rights advocates in the city.

On 19 June, Mr Cox, 36, was arrested at a neighbourhood party after a witness called in to report that they suspected he was carrying a gun. He was placed in handcuffs, without incident, by New Haven police under suspicion of allegedly possessing an illegal firearm and was placed in the back of a police van without securing him in the back with a seatbelt.

Video footage shows the transport vehicle coming to an abrupt stop at one point, sending Mr Cox flying head-first into the hard wall, with his hands unable to break his fall and absorb the shock in any way as they were cuffed behind his back.

In follow-up video footage, the officers can be seen opening the back of the van door and seeing the 36-year-old splayed on the floor, head down. The injured man can be heard shouting that he believes he broke his neck, while officers can be heard in the video footage openly mocking him and later dragging him by his feet from the vehicle to his holding cell, all before seeking medical attention.

Randy Cox, 36, is seen being thrown head-first into the wall of a police transport van after an abrupt stop (New Haven Police Department/video screengrab)

Speaking on Fox 26 Houston, the civil rights attorney told the news outlet that the appalling treatment that Mr Cox received harkens back to Freddie Gray, who was arrested by Baltimore police in 2015 over an illegal possession of a knife and died in hospital a few days after sustaining injuries while being transported in the back of a police van.

The 25-year-old Black man’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office, who concluded that his fatal injuries could not be ruled an accident because officers had failed to secure the man in the back of the patrol car, which flouted department protocol.

“When you look at the video, you immediately say, ‘this is Freddie Gray on video’. We get to see it. And it’s such a shocking video,” Mr Crump told Fox 26 News. “For the police to not believe him when he says, ‘I think my neck is broken’, and they just mock him and throw him around like a rag doll … it’s very difficult to watch.”

Paramedics later arrived after the man’s slumped body was placed on the floor of the holding cell and transported him to hospital, where his oldest sister, LaQuavius LeGrant, 39, told ABC News says he still remains in the ICU. He is currently paralysed, surviving through both a ventilator and a feeding tube and doctors told the family he is unlikely to be able to walk again.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking to go to that hospital room, the ICU, to look in his eyes – his eyes are awake – and can’t do anything about it,” she said. “What happened is unacceptable and it’s inexcusable.”

The five officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative duty, according to New Haven police, and it has prompted a state investigation, though Mr Crump wants to push that to be a federal civil rights investigation.

The co-counsel, Mr O’Donnell, has similarly indicated that the team is preparing to file a federal lawsuit within the next 60 days, after they’ve finished reviewing the more than two hours of video footage covered in the incident, including the moment that Mr Cox sustained his near-fatal injuries.

“I am here because when I looked at that vidoe, it shocked my conscience,” Mr Crump said during the press conference. “And I believe when you all see that video, it’s going to shock your conscience. The only question is, why, when the police look at Randy Cox saying, ‘I can’t move,’ why doesn’t it shock their conscience?”

In the publicly released segments of the video, officers can also be heard teasing Mr Cox about whether he sustained his injuries from having “too much” to drink.

“He just drank too much,” you can hear one of the officers say, who then later begins to prod Mr Cox by asking him, “How much did you have to drink?” and “Did you have any drugs or alcohol?”

The Connecticut president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said that he doesn’t believe the fast-braking narrative holds water, alleging that the stop was intentional on the driver’s behalf.

“People from my community have been coming to us for years talking about how they torture people in the back of paddy wagons,” said Scot Esdaile, according to the Associated Press. “They put people in the back of the paddy wagon; they go real fast and then they slam on the brakes.”

Randy Cox, 36, was seriously injured in the back of a police van in Connecticut when the driver braked suddenly (Twitter/Ben Crump)

Mr Crump has similarly raised allegations that the driver could perhaps be more culpable than the force is letting on, saying he suspects speeding or texting while driving could’ve been a factor, and is thus demanding that the police department be transparent in the investigation.

The Independent has reached out to the New Haven Police Department for comment on the investigation.

Writing on Twitter on the Fourth of July holiday, Mr Crump highlighted how Mr Cox – an otherwise healthy young man – went from being able to step into the back of the police car on his own to now needing full support to breathe and eat with little hope that he’ll be able to walk again.

“This is heartbreaking,” wrote Mr Crump. “A sudden stop caused Randy Cox to break his NECK in a transport van that wasn’t equipped with seatbelts.”

“Because New Havent (CT) officers ignored his pleas for help, he went from a healthy man to now paralyzed. This is unacceptable!!”

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