Randy Cox following the incident Credit: Courtesy of the New Haven Independent

A legislative panel advanced two bills this week intended to change police policy in response to an incident last year in New Haven, where an unsecured man was partially paralyzed after he was slammed against the wall of a police van.

Richard “Randy” Cox, a 36-year-old Black man, was paralyzed from the chest down last summer after he was arrested by police and placed in a van with no seatbelts. The driver of the van later braked to an abrupt stop, pitching Cox violently against the wall. 

Cox sustained serious injuries and his case has had far-reaching consequences. In September, he sued five New Haven officers for $100 million and in November the officers were arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and cruelty. 

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced two proposals this week intended to curtail similar incidents in the future. 

One bill, which the committee sent to the state Senate on Tuesday, would mandate that medical attention is provided to people in custody if they experience an emergency. When the bill received a public hearing last week, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, cited the Randy Cox incident as he argued for the bill’s passage.

“While the behavior of the officers [in the Cox incident] may have violated department policy, there was no clear state law that required immediate medical care,” Looney wrote. “I urge passage of this bill to prevent similar tragedies.”

That bill cleared the committee on a bipartisan, 33 – 4 vote. However, Rep. Greg Howard, a Republican and Stonington police officer, worried the policy may be misused by some people in police custody. 

“In my experience I know that oftentimes when an individual is held in local lock up on a bond over the weekend, that becomes sort of a ploy that they use to go out, out, out, out when there may not be a need,” Howard said. 

Howard voted against the bill, saying he supported the language but wanted to continue a conversation to address his concerns. When another lawmaker brought up similar points, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said he took the concerns seriously.

“My hope is that there is language we can find that would deal with that,” Winfield said. “I make no promises in this building but I would make every effort to do that.” 

Another bill, approved by the committee on Friday, directs the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to develop a policy requiring seat belts for people transported in municipal vehicles and create a disciplinary process for officers who fail to follow the policy. 

Rep. Craig Fishbein, a Wallingford Republican who co-sponsored the bill, encouraged POST to consider situations where passengers in police vehicles are unwilling or unable to be secured when the seat belt policy is drafted.

“We shouldn’t have to do this bill, but unfortunately we’ve come to the point that we do,” Fishbein said. “What happened in New Haven — may have happened elsewhere too, but that’s the one I’ve heard about — should not have happened in my opinion.”

Howard said he also hoped POST would draft a policy that required police to make their best efforts to secure passengers, but allowed for contingencies. 

“Oftentimes individuals in the back of a police car can get their hands at the front of them, they can undo the seatbelt, they try to kick out windows,” Howard said.