DFR would neither confirm the reason for Cox’s administrative leave nor say whether he's still being paid.
Asked for specifics, DFR spokesperson Jason Evans said by email: “Discussing the reasons behind the change in a member's employment status falls under personnel matters. That being the case, I am unable to confirm the information you're inquiring about.”
Last week, the Observer published body camera footage that appeared to show Cox kick a mentally ill man named Kyle Vess while he sat on the ground. The Dallas Police Department conducted a public integrity unit investigation into Cox’s actions, found no criminal wrongdoing and closed the case in November 2019.
The investigation was sent to DFR's internal affairs division for administrative review, but Cox has remained at the department ever since.
Earlier this year, Vess filed a lawsuit against Cox for detaining him and allegedly using excessive force. The lawsuit also names the city, which is accused of not providing adequate training on how to detain and treat mentally ill or homeless people. The suit also says the city should have already fired Cox over previous allegations of misconduct.
On the day of the incident, DFR was responding to a grass fire on the side of the road as Vess walked down Lone Star Drive in West Dallas. Suspecting Vess had set the fire, Cox confronted him.
In body camera footage, Cox recounts the incident. “He was going up the service road and he set one right here in front of the engine somewhere, so I got out to go kick it out because it was small before it got big," he says. "That’s when [Vess] got up and started charging.”
Surveillance footage from a nearby business captures Vess charging Cox before the two go out of frame, according to DPD investigative documents. (This surveillance footage hasn't been released.)
There was a brawl between the two, according to the documents, until Vess was subdued and detained by Cox and other firefighters on the scene. Vess was sprawled out in the road with Cox hovering over him when police arrived.
“I am glad DFR has placed him on leave but this should have been done long ago.” – Sean McCaffity, attorney
The video shows Vess waving his arms on the ground. Cox tells him twice, “Don’t get up again.” As Vess sits up, Cox kicks him in the face. Vess stands up to confront Cox, which is when Cox throws a series of punches. A DPD officer then shocks Vess with a Taser, sending him stumbling to the ground.
Before this incident, Vess had suffered a traumatic brain injury and still endured a mental disability. According to Vess’ lawsuit, the kick Cox delivered fractured his orbital socket and sinus and cracked his teeth.
“I am glad DFR has placed him on leave, but this should have been done long ago,” said Sean McCaffity, one of Vess’ lawyers. “Leave alone is insufficient.”
In 2019, Cox and a DFR paramedic named Kyle Clark pleaded guilty to falsifying a report in order to cover up his and others' failure to render aid. The person who needed aid was Hirschell Wayne Fletcher Jr., a homeless man with schizophrenia. He found himself in police custody in 2016 after being robbed and assaulted outside a Dallas soup kitchen.
Court documents say Cox, Clark, and the police laughed at and harassed Fletcher while he lay in pain on the sidewalk for some 10 minutes. They assumed Fletcher was drunk, so they charged him with public intoxication and took him to the Dallas Marshal’s Office and City Detention Center. The next morning, Fletcher was rushed to the hospital after being found unresponsive in his cell. Fletcher died in the hospital from a head injury.
Cox and Clark were sentenced to 12 months of probation as well as $500 fines for falsifying the reports. Fletcher’s family filed a lawsuit against the city, the officers, Cox and Clark. The family is still fighting in court.
Gerald Bright, Cox’s attorney in the Vess case, filed a response to the lawsuit on Monday, asking the court to dismiss all the claims against him. The court documents say Cox denies “that any kick was excessive, but lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about [Vess'] alleged injuries and past and present condition at this time.”