Officers plead not guilty in police van paralysis case

Jan 10, 2023, 8:38 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2023, 12:53 pm
FILE - Betsy Segui, center, and Luis Rivera, right, enter the courthouse in New Haven, Conn., Thurs...

FILE - Betsy Segui, center, and Luis Rivera, right, enter the courthouse in New Haven, Conn., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Five Connecticut police officers pleaded not guilty Wednesday, jan. 11, 2023, to charges accusing them of cruelly mistreating a Black man after he was partially paralyzed in a police van with no seat belts when the driver braked hard. The New Haven officers entered the pleas during their second appearances in state court since being arrested in November in connection with the injuries suffered by Richard "Randy" Cox, who is paralyzed from the chest down. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Five Connecticut police officers pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges accusing them of cruelly mistreating a Black man after he was partially paralyzed in a police van with no seat belts when the driver braked hard.

The New Haven officers entered the pleas during their second appearances in state court since being arrested in November in connection with the injuries suffered by Richard “Randy” Cox, who is paralyzed from the chest down. All five remained free on bail and on leave from their jobs.

The officers — Oscar Diaz, Betsy Segui, Ronald Pressley, Jocelyn Lavandier and Luis Rivera — are charged with second-degree reckless endangerment and cruelty to persons — misdemeanor charges criticized as too light by Cox’s family and lawyers.

The case has drawn outrage from civil rights advocates like the NAACP, along with comparisons to the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. Gray, who was also Black, died in 2015 after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van.

Cox’s lawyer is Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney known nationally for representing the families of Black people killed by police.

“Since these five officers failed to take accountability for their actions, they will now have to face a trial, where the prosecution will present the significant evidence against their claims of no guilt,” Crump said in a statement. “We are confident that will show just how little humanity Randy was shown and how that contributed to his lifelong, catastrophic injuries.”

Cox, 36, was being driven to a New Haven police station June 19 for processing on a weapons charge when, police said, the officer driving the van braked hard at an intersection to avoid a collision.

Cox, whose hands were handcuffed behind his back, flew headfirst into the metal partition separating the driver’s section from the prisoners’ compartment, resulting in Cox fracturing his neck.

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

Diaz, the officer driving the van, stopped a few minutes later to check on him, according to police video and officials. Cox was lying motionless on the floor and Diaz called paramedics. However, Diaz told them to meet him at the station instead of waiting for them — a violation of department policy, Police Chief Karl Jacobson said.

At the station, some of the officers mocked Cox and accused him of being drunk and faking his injuries, according to surveillance and body-worn camera footage. Officers dragged Cox by his feet out of the van and placed him in a holding cell prior to his eventual transfer to a hospital.

Gregory Cerritelli, a lawyer for Segui, who was at the police station when Cox arrived, said his client is not responsible for Cox’s injuries.

“Police officers are often required to utilize their best judgment in assessing situations, and are now being judged with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight,” Cerritelli said in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Our Supreme Court has consistently held this is not the appropriate standard.”

Cox is suing the officers and city for $100 million in federal court for alleged negligence, excessive use of force, failing to provide immediate medical care, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.

In court documents, the officers and the city deny the lawsuit allegations, claim immunity and partially blame Cox for his own actions.

In court filings last week, the officers also accused an ambulance company and emergency medical technicians of failing to give Cox proper treatment before transporting him from the police station to the hospital.

The criminal charges against Cox that led to his arrest have been dropped.

New Haven police say they have put new policies in place in response to what happened to Cox, including eliminating the use of police vans for most prisoner transports and using marked police vehicles instead, along with making sure vans have seat belts.

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Officers plead not guilty in police van paralysis case