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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    2 New Haven officers fired over treatment of man paralyzed in police van

    The City of New Haven fired two police officers Wednesday for what authorities called their reckless actions and lack of compassion toward Richard “Randy” Cox, who was injured and became paralyzed in the back of a police van after his arrest last year.

    City police commissioners voted to dismiss Jocelyn Lavandier and Luis Rivera for violating officer conduct rules on following the law, integrity, trustworthiness, courtesy and respect. The two officers and three others also face criminal charges.

    Four of the six commissioners voted in favor of the terminations while two abstained, which Commission Chair Evelise Ribeiro said was likely because they didn't attend hearings on the matter. The body also postponed a vote on whether to fire two other officers involved in Cox's detention.

    A message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for Lavandier and Rivera.

    Cox injured his neck on June 19, 2022, when the police van braked hard to avoid a collision with another vehicle that pulled out from a side street, according to police. Cox's hands were cuffed behind his back and there were no seat belts, and he flew head-first into the metal divider between the driver's section and the prisoners' area.

    “I can’t move. I’m going to die like this. Please, please, please help me,” Cox said, according to police video.

    Internal affairs investigators said Lavandier and Rivera were among several officers at the police station who recklessly dragged him out of the van and around the detention area while he was paralyzed, mocked him for not being able to move and falsely accused him of being drunk.

    Cox had been arrested on allegations he threatened a woman with a gun, charges that later were dismissed.

    Five officers, including Lavandier and Rivera, were criminally charged on allegations they cruelly mistreated and neglected Cox, who was left paralyzed from the chest down and is suing the officers and the city for $100 million. The criminal cases remain pending.

    All five officers — Lavandier, Rivera, Oscar Diaz and Betsy Segui be fired. The fifth officer criminally charged, Ronald Pressley — have pleaded not guilty.

    Police Chief Karl Jacobson recommended to police commissioners in March that Lavandier, Rivera, Diaz and Segui be fired.

    Their lawyers have said they should not be fired. Gregory Cerritelli, who represents Segui, has called them “scapegoats” for the department’s “inadequate training and policies.”

    Pressley retired in January, so he does not face internal discipline by the department.

    The case has drawn outrage from civil rights advocates like the NAACP, along with comparisons to the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Cox is Black, while all five officers who were arrested are Black or Hispanic.

    Gray, who also was Black, died in 2015 after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van.

    New Haven police said Diaz was driving the van when Cox was injured. He pulled over several minutes after Cox began pleading for help and called an ambulance, but told paramedics to meet him at the police station, officials said. Diaz violated policy by not waiting for the ambulance where he had pulled over, Jacobson said.

    At the station, officials say Lavandier and other officers dragged Cox out of the van and tried to stand him up, but Cox collapsed to the floor as officers held him. Officers then put him in a wheelchair and brought him to a cell, where they put him on the floor and waited for the ambulance.

    During the interactions, officers kept ordering Cox to get up or move, accused him of being drunk and didn't believe he was injured, investigators said. Some of the officers told investigators that they wouldn't have moved Cox from the van if they knew the severity of his injuries.

    City police subsequently announced reforms including making sure all prisoners wear seat belts. The state Senate on Monday gave final legislative approval to a bill spurred by the Cox case that would require seat belts for all prisoners being transported.

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