5 officers charged in police van injury case appear in court

Five Connecticut police officers appeared in court for the first time Thursday since being charged with cruelly neglecting a Black man after he was partially paralyzed in the back of a police van, despite his repeated and desperate pleas for help.

The New Haven officers briefly faced a judge, who continued their cases to Jan. 11. All five officers, who did not speak in court, remain free on $25,000 bail and have been on paid administrative leave since the summer.

Richard “Randy” Cox, 36, was being driven in a van without seatbelts to a New Haven police station June 19 for processing on a weapons charge. Authorities said the van's driver braked hard to avoid a collision, causing Cox to fly headfirst into the metal partition between the driver's compartment and the passengers' section.

Cox, who was handcuffed at the time, was left paralyzed from his chest down.

“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 camera video.

The officer driving the van, Oscar Diaz, stopped a few minutes later to check on him, according to the 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, according to Police Chief Karl Jacobson, who has also said Diaz violated police policies.

At the station, some of the officers mocked Cox and accused him of being drunk and faking his injuries, according to dialogue captured by surveillance and body-worn camera footage. Cox was later found to have a fractured neck and was paralyzed.

Officers dragged Cox by his feet from the van and placed him in a holding cell prior to his eventual transfer to a hospital.

Diaz and the other four officers — Sgt. Betsy Segui, Officer Ronald Pressley, Officer Jocelyn Lavandier and Officer Luis Rivera — were charged on Nov. 28 with second-degree reckless endangerment and cruelty to persons, both misdemeanors.

After the court appearances, the officers' lawyers, Gregory Cerritelli and John Keefe, said they could not comment on the criminal charges because they had not yet received documents, video and other evidence from the police and prosecutors.

Cox’s family filed a $100 million federal lawsuit against the city of New Haven and the five officers in September. City officials announced this week that they were pursuing an early settlement.

Cox's lawyers, including Ben Crump, have said the case reminds them of Freddie Gray's death 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.

Crump has said the misdemeanor charges against the New Haven officers were a “slap on the wrist” and they should have been charged with felonies.

The criminal charges against Cox that led to his arrest were later dropped.

In response to how Cox was handled, New Haven police announced a series of reforms including eliminating the use of police vans for most prisoner transports — using marked police vehicles instead — and requiring officers to ensure people being transported are wearing seatbelts. Officers also must immediately call for an ambulance to respond to their location if a prisoner requests or appears to need medical aid.