Video captured former DFR paramedic Brad Cox kick a mentally ill man named Kyle Vess while he was on the ground multiple times.
Vess sued the city and Cox over the incident in July this year. The lawsuit argues that Cox illegally detained Vess and used excessive force, and that the city has a de facto policy of protecting its bad apples. The suit also claims Dallas doesn’t provide proper training, supervision or discipline to its employees, including DFR paramedics and firefighters.
As part of the litigation, Vess’ attorneys requested certain documents from the city that are relevant to their case. His attorneys want, among other things, all “written documents or other recorded data of any kind describing or otherwise memorializing policies and/or procedures detailing the liability the city of Dallas holds in relation to its employees’ individual actions,” according to court documents.
They also want a copy of DFR’s standard operating procedures from the time of the incident; and documents relating to Cox’s hiring, employment track record, prior internal investigations and documents specifically related to the incident with Vess.
The city has moved to have the case dismissed, claiming it isn’t liable for any harm done that day. Cox is claiming qualified immunity, contending that as a public employee he can't be held liable. The city is asking the court to withhold the documents Vess’ attorneys have requested until there’s been a ruling on the dismissal and the qualified immunity defense. In its motion, the city cites other cases where courts have granted such delays in discovery.
Reached for comment, a city spokesperson said in an email, "It has never been the City's policy to comment on personnel matters."
Jason Evans, DFR's spokesperson, said in an email: "Both the City and Department has held the position that we will not be responding to any questions, or making any comments, on matters that are involved in pending litigation. That position has not changed."
On Aug. 2, 2019, Vess was walking down a service road in West Dallas. DFR was responding to a call about someone starting grass fires along the service road. When they arrived, they found Vess, who they believed was starting the fires.
One of the DFR paramedics supposedly confronted Vess about the fires and a physical altercation ensued. In video captured on a nearby surveillance camera, Vess can be seen swinging at Cox and attempting to throw something at him. Both attempts to to hit Cox seemed to miss, and then he and Vess move behind the firetruck, obstructed from the camera’s view.
“Now, there’s a lot of things that happened before that kick." – Lee Allen, Dallas Police Department
What you can see is that Vess ends up on the ground where Cox kicks him repeatedly as others with DFR stand nearby. Another firefighter appears to try to intervene, but is pushed away by Cox.
When police arrive, they’re told Vess assaulted Cox. As officers waited for backup to take in Vess, Cox hovered over him while he lay on the ground. Vess began to sit up and look toward Cox, which is when the paramedic kicked him in the right side of his face. Vess stood up to confront Cox and was met with the paramedic’s fists. Cox threw a series of punches at Vess. Two appeared to land.
DPD Tasered Vess as he stood up, but later, the DPD officer who used the Taser on Vess would report the kick to her sergeant and spark a public integrity investigation. This investigation would ultimately clear Cox and allow him to stay with the department until this year.
Cox was fired from DFR after the Observer and The Dallas Morning News reported on the incident. Then, the state suspended Cox’s paramedic license. He has since appealed the suspension.
Some of the documents that could be withheld from Vess’ attorneys are the public integrity unit investigation interviews, in which officers who were on the scene detail what they saw that day.
DPD Sergeant Luis Cruz arrived on the scene when they began loading Vess into an ambulance to be taken to Parkland Hospital. He sat down for a recorded interview with the public integrity investigator, Lee Allen, a few days after the incident.
Cruz tells Allen in the video that he went to speak with Cox on the scene. He told Cox he needed to do a report on what happened. “‘I don’t want to press charges,’” Cruz recalls Cox saying. “I said, ‘Well, you’re a public servant, you just got assaulted. … I have to fully look at everything here. You’re an employee of Dallas. You just got punched in the face. I’ve got to see this.’”
Before he left, Cruz also spoke with Cox’s DFR captain. “What are you going to do with this?” they asked Cruz.
“I’m going to send it up my chain of command,” Cruz responded. “That’s it?” the DFR captain asked. “That’s it,” Cruz said.
As Cruz was getting ready to type up his report, he got a call from DPD officer Jessica Cuddy, who had used the Taser on Vess. “[Sergeant], you might want to view my body-worn camera and look at it,” Cuddy told him. She said Cox kicked Vess while he was on the ground. “You’ve got to see the video,” Cuddy said. When Cruz saw the video, he told his supervisor and it was taken to the public integrity unit.
“Now, there’s a lot of things that happened before that kick,” Allen, who purportedly was interviewing Cruz as part of a public integrity investigation.
He said they were able to retrieve surveillance video from a nearby business that showed what happened before officers arrived.
Allen shows Cruz the patches of grass that Vess allegedly lit on fire. “Cox, who kicked [Vess], went down to put this fire out. While doing so, Vess charges at him out into the service road,” Allen explains. “That’s when he took a swing at [Cox].”
The investigator continues to describe what he saw in the surveillance footage, but he doesn't mention that the video also shows Cox kicking Vess repeatedly after falling to the ground. Vess also claims Cox had already assaulted him and that the punch he threw at the paramedic came afterward. However, none of the videos released by DPD, which did not arrive in prosecutors hands until about two years after the incident, show firefighters arriving, which is when Vess said he was first kicked. The videos came from a stationary security camera from a nearby business.
“He had to put him down several times. At the time when they were going around and around, he was the only one out there with this individual,” Allen said. “All those other firemen, they didn’t jump right in and help. They kind of stood back. Then, they tried to kind of hold him down. And then the guy jumps back up. Then they went back at it again. So, there was a lot that led to that.”
Cruz tells Allen, “My concern was that kick.”
Again, Allen was assigned the task of conducting an impartial investigation. In one of the videos released to the Observer in response to a public information request, a firefighter appears to be attempting to hold Cox back from kicking Vess again. That's not mentioned in his interview with Cruz.
Asked for clarity on how these investigations are conducted, DPD said in an email, “Interview techniques are not generally discussed publicly," adding: "It is every law enforcement officer’s job to conduct a fair and impartial investigation.”
The Vess family has called for Cox's arrest over the incident. DPD said it is currently reviewing the findings of the public integrity investigation that cleared Cox, and they hope to be done in the "near future."