Judge rejects officers’ bid to erase charges in the case of a man paralyzed after police van ride

Officers are charged with negligent ­cruelty and reckless endangerment

By Dave Collins
Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Four former Connecticut police officers arrested for allegedly mistreating a man who wound up paralyzed in the back of a police van in 2022 were denied bids Thursday to enter a program that could have erased criminal charges against them and possibly let them avoid trial.

A judge in New Haven Superior Court rejected the former officers’ applications for accelerated rehabilitation, citing the seriousness of Richard “Randy” Cox’s injuries. The program, generally for first-time offenders accused of low-level crimes, requires successfully completing probation. “The resulting injuries to the victim are of such a serious nature that the court feels that precludes participation in the program,” Judge Gerald Harmon said.

The four former New Haven officers, Oscar Diaz, Betsy Segui, Ronald Pressley and Luis Rivera, were charged with misdemeanors of negligent cruelty to persons and reckless endangerment. All four, whose cases were continued until May 9, declined to comment after the hearing.

A fifth officer, Jocelyn Lavandier, faces the same charges, but was not at Thursday’s hearing as her case was postponed until May. She also applied for the probation program.

Cox, now 38, was left paralyzed from the chest down June 19, 2022, when a police van he was riding in braked hard to avoid a collision with a car, sending him head-first into a metal partition. His hands were cuffed behind his back and the van had no seat belts. Cox had been arrested on charges of threatening a woman with a gun, which were later dismissed.

“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 and checked on Cox, according to police reports. Diaz called for emergency medical staff and told them to meet him at the police station, the reports said.

Once at the station, officers mocked Cox and accused him of being drunk and faking his injuries, according to surveillance and body-worn camera footage. Officers dragged Cox from the van by his feet and placed him in a holding cell prior to his eventual transfer to a hospital. His family says officers may have exacerbated Cox’s injuries by moving him around.

Lawyers for the officers argued Thursday that Cox’s injuries happened before he got to the police station and they cited a medical opinion that they did not exacerbate the injuries after the fact.

Four of the five officers were fired last year. The fifth, Pressley, retired and avoided an internal affairs investigation. A state board in January overturned Diaz’s firing, but the city is appealing that decision. After Thursday’s ruling,
their criminal cases will now move toward trial.

Cox’s supporters, including his family and the NAACP, have criticized prosecutors for not bringing felony charges against the five officers.

Supporters have compared his case to what happened to Freddie Gray, a Black man who died in 2015 in Baltimore after he suffered a spinal injury while handcuffed and shackled in a city police van. Cox is Black, and all five officers who were arrested are Black or Hispanic.

New Haven settled a lawsuit by Cox for $45 million.

Cox did not attend Thursday’s hearing. His lawyer, Jack O’Donnell, said travel is complicated and painful for him.

After Cox was injured, city police announced reforms, including making sure all prisoners wear seat belts. The state Legislature last year approved a new law spurred by the Cox case that would require seat belts for all prisoners being transported in Connecticut.