Vess' problems started in 2019 when Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedic Brad Cox allegedly kicked him in the face. Now, Vess is suing Cox for detaining him and using excessive force. The lawsuit also names the city of Dallas for keeping Cox on the job despite previous allegations.
Before the incident, Vess suffered from both a mental disability and a previous traumatic brain injury.
McCaffity said there's a pattern of excessive force in Dallas. “It’s sort of a de facto practice or custom that is put in place that contributes to or causes these constitutional rights violations,” he said, “because you end up keeping bad apples in the basket in order to protect the whole basket.”
Filed in late July, the lawsuit claims the city didn’t provide adequate training on how to detain and treat mentally ill or homeless people. In an email to the Observer, a Dallas spokesperson said the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.
One day in early August 2019, Vess was walking down Lone Star Drive in West Dallas as Dallas Fire-Rescue was fighting a small grass fire on the side of the road. According to the lawsuit, Cox suspected Vess had set the grass fire. He and others detained Vess while they waited for police officers to arrive. “During the detention, Defendant Cox physically beat and subdued [Vess],” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges that after DPD showed up, Vess was “clearly subdued and lying on the ground on his back,” and that Dallas police officers Jessica Cuddy and Zachery Johnson saw this.
Vess soon found himself surrounded, looking up at Dallas cops, firefighters and sheriff’s department personnel. Cox stood over Vess, threatening and taunting him, according to the lawsuit, saying, “Get up again, get up again.”
Vess started to sit up, but when he turned to look at Cox, the paramedic kicked the right side of his head with his steel-toed boot, the lawsuit alleges.
Vess jumped up to confront Cox, but an officer quickly put him back down with a Taser. The cops charged Vess with assault on a public non-law enforcement officer. The lawsuit claims the incident report filed by police is “materially false” and misleading because it omits Cox’s “dangerous, reckless and unprovoked” kick to the side of Vess’ head.
The kick fractured Vess’ orbital socket and sinus and cracked his teeth. He now suffers from paralysis on the right side of his face, according to the lawsuit.
“The excessive kick to his face also caused significant further injury to his brain and has significantly worsened his mental condition and long-term prospects,” the lawsuit said.
Cox is a trained mixed martial artist, having fought professionally several times. He’s also a jiu jitsu coach, so he should know “the danger that a forceful kick to the head can cause an individual,” the lawsuit argues. They say the move constitutes aggravated assault.
The lawsuit says Cox has a history of committing civil rights violations while on the job. He’s named in another lawsuit that claims he failed to render aid to Hirschell Wayne Fletcher Jr., a homeless person with schizophrenia who found himself in police custody in December 2016.
Fletcher had been robbed and assaulted outside a soup kitchen in Dallas, according to court documents, when someone else came by and punched him in the head. He fell and hit his head on a wall. Passersby told a nearby police officer, George Morales, who called two other cops to the scene along with two Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedics, Cox and Kyle Clark.
Court documents say the officers and paramedics laughed at and harassed Fletcher while he lay in pain on the sidewalk for some 10 minutes.
Assuming Fletcher was drunk, the cops charged him with public intoxication and took him to the Dallas Marshal’s Office and City Detention Center. On the way there, Morales allegedly ignored Fletcher’s pleas for medical attention. Officers also ignored him while he was in his cell. The next morning Fletcher was reportedly found unresponsive in his cell and rushed to the hospital where he died from the head injury.
Fletcher’s family filed a lawsuit against the city, the officers and the paramedics. They’re still duking it out in court.
Cox and Clark were indicted in relation to the Fletcher case for tampering with government evidence. They falsified a report to cover up their failure to render aid. They pleaded guilty in 2019 and were sentenced to 12 months of probation as well as $500 fines.