Marchers to New Haven police: 'If I say my neck is broke, don't take it as a joke'
Hundreds of marchers gathered Friday evening in support of Randy Cox, a man paralyzed in the back of a New Haven police van, hours after the family said they want civil rights charges filed against the officers involved in the incident.
“If I say my neck is broke, don’t take it as a joke,” protesters chanted as they marched from Stetson Public Library to the New Haven police department.
Cox's family said Friday that the New Haven police department's newly announced reforms don't go far enough — that the department needs a deeper culture change.
New Haven's mayor and newly appointed Chief of Police Karl Jacobson met protesters at the police department and expressed support for the march.
Cox, 36, was in the back of the van without seat belts last month when the driver braked suddenly to avoid a collision, authorities said. Cox flew headfirst into a wall of the van. Family members said he remains paralyzed from the chest down.
New Haven's reforms announced Thursday, include requiring that officers follow posted speed limits and that they don't use electronic devices while driving. Officers also have to ensure prisoners are wearing seatbelts, and must check on their physical health throughout the detention process.
Cox’s sister, LaToya Boomer, questioned why police officers need to be forced to act with compassion.
“Why do you need a policy that says when someone needs help, you give them help?” Boomer said at a Friday morning news conference. “Him saying, ‘I think my neck is broken’ should be the end of discussion.”
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, said he agreed that there’s a deeper culture issue within the police department.
“When they dragged him out of the van by his legs, and when they threw him into the wheelchair — that’s a whole culture in the New Haven Police Department,” Esdaile said. “That’s a compassion issue. That’s a character issue.”
Justin Elicker, mayor of New Haven, said during a question-and-answer session on Friday that every officer he had spoken to agrees that the incident was unacceptable. And he agreed that the department needs a culture change.
“Policies help lay the foundation, but it’s much more than that,” Elicker said. “It’s about the people that we recruit, the culture that we foster within the police department. It’s about holding those officers that don’t align with those values accountable when there’s an issue.”
Esdaile also argued that these policies may be difficult to enforce.
“The New Haven police department has been bullies for many years,” Esdaile said. “There’s a culture in the New Haven police department. We’ve seen where leadership has tried to make [changes] in the past, police officers would call out sick, and the officers would go in before the mayor and turn all their sirens on to show the mayor that they weren’t going to make any changes — that ‘you don’t mess with us.’”
The five officers involved in the incident are on paid administrative leave while the Connecticut State Police conduct a criminal investigation. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump says the family and their attorneys are ”cautiously hopeful” about the state’s investigation. Cox’s family is also in talks with federal Department of Justice officials about a possible civil rights investigation.
“From what we see on that video, it is clearly a violation of his civil rights. They violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment and the 14th Amendment,” said Crump, an attorney for the Cox family. “They had deliberate indifference to his medical care.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the mayor of New Haven; he is Justin Elicker, not Luke Bronin.