New Haven police officers’ legal defense faults injured arrestee

NEW HAVEN — Four of the five city police officers sued for allegedly violating Richard ​“Randy” Cox’s constitutional rights claim in new court filings that their actions were reasonable and covered by ​“qualified immunity,” arguing that the paralyzing injuries suffered by the 36-year-old New Haven man while in police custody stemmed in large part from his own ​“negligence and carelessness.”

Mayor Justin Elicker’s administration has taken a similar tack, invoking ​“governmental immunity” in the case and claiming “contributory negligence” on the part of Cox.

New Haven Police Sgt. Betsy Segui and Officers Oscar Diaz, Ronald Pressley, and Luis Rivera put forward the former set of legal defenses on Monday and Tuesday in separate federal court filings in an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by Cox. 

The court filings represent the first time since Cox’s arrest on June 19 that these four police officers — in this case, through each of their lawyers — have said anything publicly about what happened that night. 

The filings come nearly two months after Cox’s legal team filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against the city and the officers seeking $100 million in damages.

The officers’ invoking of ​“qualified immunity” refers broadly speaking to a frequently invoked portion of common law that allows officers to claim that they acted in an objectively reasonable manner in the moment of an alleged civil rights violation. 

As for Cox’s purported role in his own suffering, Segui’s lawyer wrote the following in a Monday court filing in defense of his client: ​“The Plaintiff’s own negligence and carelessness contributed to and was a substantial factor in causing the injuries and losses alleged in the Complaint, in that: a) He failed to act as a reasonable, prudent person under the circumstances; b) He failed to comply with the lawful commands of officers on scene; and c) He actively interfered with the investigation conducted by officers on scene.”

The claims of qualified immunity in this federal court case come roughly two years after a landmark state police accountability bill championed by New Haven State Sen. Gary Winfield modified and limited state allowance for such a defense.

The only officer sued in this case to put forward a substantively different legal defense so far is Jocelyn Lavandier. Her Hartford-based attorney argued in a motion filed last week that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that his client had never been properly served.

Asked for comment on the city police officers’ invoking of qualified immunity in this case, R.J. Weber, who is one of the lead attorneys representing Cox in this federal lawsuit, said he is unsurprised by that defense. He noted that it’s a common one for police officers facing civil lawsuits. He said he’s confident that such a defense ​“won’t hold water” in this case.

Weber also called ​“ridiculous” the cops’ claims that Cox is in large part responsible for his injuries because of his own ​“negligence.” All one has to do is ​“watch the video,” Weber said, to know that that is not the case.

This story originally appeared on the website of The New Haven Independent,


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