Two officers in Connecticut have been placed on paid leave after a man was seriously injured in the back of a police van and dragged around the police station before being taken to a hospital with signs of paralysis, authorities said.
New Haven Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson said at a news conference Tuesday evening that Officer Oscar Diaz did not follow a department policy that requires officers to call for medical assistance and wait for paramedics when someone is in distress in a police vehicle. He said Diaz braked hard to avoid an accident, injuring Richard Cox.
“This is a horrible thing that happened to this young man, and we’re going to do everything possible so it doesn’t happen again,” Jacobson said.
City police on Tuesday also released videos of their handling of Cox and said state police were called in to investigate.
Cox, 36, of New Haven, was arrested on a gun charge Sunday. He was being treated at a hospital and there was a chance he could be permanently paralyzed, Mayor Justin Elicker said.
On Wednesday, the president of the Connecticut chapter of the NAACP, Scot X. Esdaile, said he will be asking federal authorities to investigate how New Haven police officers treated Cox.
“They need to be held accountable for this man being paralyzed,” Esdaile told The Associated Press.
Esdaile said the situation reminded him of the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, died in 2015 after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a Baltimore police van.
Cox, who is Black, also was handcuffed when he was in the back of the New Haven police van, and there were no seat belts. He flew headfirst into a wall when Diaz braked hard to avoid an accident, police said. A camera recorded the moments when Cox was injured.
Diaz then resumed driving to the police department despite Cox calling for help and saying he was injured and couldn't move, according to the video and officials. A few minutes later, Diaz stopped the van to check on Cox, who was lying motionless on the floor.
Diaz then called paramedics, but told them to meet him at the station instead of waiting for them, Jacobson said.
At the station, officers dragged Cox out of the van by his feet and put him in a wheelchair, video shows. Police then booked Cox, took him out of the wheelchair and dragged him into a cell, where he was left on the floor, video shows.
Paramedics arrived minutes later and took Cox to a hospital, officials said.
Elicker said Tuesday evening that he found the officers' action, and inaction, “quite concerning.”
“Once the handcuffs go on, you’re then in the care of the New Haven Police Department and there’s an obligation to treat every individual in a manner that ensures their safety and well-being,” he said. “Some of the actions taken by the officers, in my personal judgment, fall short of that.”
Diaz and Sgt. Betsy Segui, who works in the department's detention area, were placed on paid leave pending an investigation. Three other officers have been transferred out of the detention area, officials said. Officers are heard on videos telling Cox at various points to stand up or move, but he could not.
Messages seeking comment were sent to Diaz, Segui and the local police union.
Lawyers Lou Rubano and R.J. Weber III said in a statement that they are representing Cox and questioned police officers' handling of him.
“We are praying for Mr. Cox’s well-being. He has a long and painful recovery ahead of him. His family is united and by his side,” they said.
In the Freddie Gray case, six officers were charged. Three were acquitted and Baltimore’s state attorney dropped the other cases. The Justice Department declined to bring federal charges.