The U.S. Justice Department says it is closely watching the investigation into the circumstances that left Richard "Randy" Cox paralyzed after being taken into custody by police in New Haven, Connecticut. The agency plans to meet with Cox's legal team Friday.
“All suspects taken into police custody must be afforded timely and appropriate medical care in the event of an emergency,” said U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery in a statement. “If federal action is warranted, the Justice Department will pursue every available avenue to the full extent of the law.”
Cox, a 36-year-old Black man, was injured June 19 while being transported by New Haven police in the back of a van. Police Chief Karl Jacobson said the van wasn’t equipped with seat belts and Cox became injured when the driver of the van, a police officer, braked suddenly to avoid a collision.
The incident has prompted reform promises from New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and Police Chief Karl Jacobson, including new policies aimed at enhancing safety protocols during the transportation and detention of people, particularly those in need of medical attention.
New Haven police said they arrested Cox for allegedly unlawfully possessing a firearm, without incident, after a person attending a block party reported that Cox was carrying a gun. Video of the arrest shows officers placing Cox in the back of a police van without seatbelts.
Cox was thrown head-first into the back wall of the van when the driver made an abrupt stop, his lawyers said citing the video. When the van arrived at the police station, the video shows Cox lying still on the floor of the vehicle.
Cox can be heard in the video telling officers that he couldn't move.
"This man can't eat. He can't sleep. He can't talk. He can't breathe. He can't do anything at all, but cry," said LaQuavius LeGrant, Cox's sister. "He cries every time we come here and all we do is cry because we can't do anything."
The police department and Cox's lawyers said that surveillance video indicates that the officers involved violated protocol, failing to wait for medical assistance and dismissing Cox's pleas for help.
“As I’ve said from day one, the New Haven Police Department is committed to doing everything in our power to make sure an incident like the one that happened to Mr. Cox never happens again. The initiatives and reforms we’re announcing today are an important series of actions to make good on that promise,” said Jacobson, who was sworn in as police chief July 6.
In the footage, one officer can be heard saying, "He just drank too much" and then later asks Cox, "Did you have any drugs or alcohol?" and "How much did you have to drink?" One officer can be heard ordering him to “sit up” repeatedly, as others put him into a wheelchair.
The footage also shows the officers dragging Cox by his feet and throwing him into a wheelchair, which his lawyers said could have exacerbated his injuries. He was later dragged into a holding cell by his arms.
"When they dragged him out of the van by his legs and when they threw him into the wheelchair, and when they slammed him on the floor in the cell, that's a whole different issue that we have to deal with when we talk about dealing with the New Haven Police Department and dealing with the culture in the New Haven Police Department," said Scott Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference and chairman of the NAACP National Criminal Justice Committee. "That's an integrity issue. That's a compassion issue."
The Connecticut State Police are investigating the incident.
“Law enforcement respecting every life they interact with and are responsible for is imperative for building trust with the communities they serve, especially communities of color," civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has joined Cox’s legal team, said in a statement. "As Randy Cox continues to fight for his life and future, we will fight for justice for him, his family, and the New Haven community.”
Several officers have been suspended pending further investigation. The city said it will implement police department-wide trainings on "'active bystandership' and de-escalation,'" and host a series of public safety town halls.
The New Haven police union did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.