NEW HAVEN, Conn. — New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker lambasted the actions taken by several of the city's police officers while arresting a man who ultimately suffered severe injuries while being in a transport van.
"I find several of the actions taken and several of the actions not taken by the officers to be quite concerning," Elicker said Tuesday.
The police department released video footage of the incident that took place Sunday night. An investigation has been turned over to the Connecticut State Police.
"Regardless of what an individual is arrested for, and there are some serious charges in this case, once the handcuffs go on, you are then in the care of the New Haven Police Department and there is an obligation to treat every individual in a manner that ensures their safety and well-being," Elicker said during a press conference Tuesday. "Some of the actions taken by the officers, in my personal judgment, fall short of that."
Officials identified Officer Oscar Diaz as the driver of the prisoner transport van, and Sgt. Betsy Sequi, who supervises the prisoner lock-up at police headquarters. Both have been placed on leave.
Acting Police Chief Regina Rush-Kittle said her department has halted its internal affairs investigation while the state police probe is ongoing.
The incident began Sunday around 7:30 p.m. Officials said officers were called to a block party on Lilac Street. At least one resident, who allegedly had been talking with 36-year-old Richard Cox, was concerned that Cox was carrying a gun and had been drinking at the party.
Officers arrived at the scene and arrested Cox, who officials said is a felon, for unlawful possession of a firearm and other charges.
After transferring him from a police cruiser to a prisoner transport van at the nearby police substation, Cox could be seen on the van's video kicking and banging the inside walls of the van in protest of his arrest.
The van was equipped with hand straps, not seatbelts, for those in handcuffs to grab onto during the ride but Cox did not appear to utilize them.
During an abrupt stop made by Diaz, who officials said was attempting to avoid a crash with another car, the momentum catapulted Cox into the van's wall. He then yelled to Diaz that he couldn't move and needed help.
Officials said Diaz then checked on Cox but instead of following department protocol, by calling for medical assistance and staying put, Diaz kept driving to the police department and asked for the ambulance to meet them there.
After Diaz pulled into the prisoner lock-up, despite Cox saying he couldn't move, officers were shown on body camera footage dragging him from the van and placing him in a wheelchair.
When his body slouched, officers picked Cox up and carried him to a holding cell from which he was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital where he underwent surgery.
“We have a policy that says if someone is in distress in the wagon, you pull over, you call for medical assistance and you wait," said Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson. "[Diaz] didn’t do that, so that’s one thing. There’s a couple other things, like the mayor mentioned. He’s processed in a wheelchair and brought to a cell. That shouldn’t have happened."
Officials said Tuesday there was no change in Cox's condition from Monday.
Police said as of the time of the incident Sunday evening, only one of their three prisoner transport vans had seatbelts. But that number is now two.
"I’m troubled by it,” said Jacobson. “I believe that there’s an attempt to help him at first and there’s a communication that he may be hurt but I’m troubled by the rest of it. That’s not what our job is to do, our job is to protect people and help people.”
Weber and Rubano, LLC, personal injury lawyers, confirmed for FOX61 that they are representing Cox. In a statement, they said:
"As you are aware our client was in the custody of the New Haven Police Department and they had the responsibility to take care of Mr. Cox and ensure his safety. We agree with the Mayor’s statements concerning the actions of the police officers involved and the fact that their actions fall short of the City of New Haven and New Haven Police Department’s protocols, expectations and responsibilities. We are praying for Mr. Cox’s well-being. He has a long and painful recovery ahead of him. His family is united and by his side."
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