City Hall

New Details Emerge Out of Second Investigation Into Dallas Paramedic Who Kicked Mentally Ill Man

Brad Cox apparently had red marks and swelling on his face caused by Kyle Vess. Another member of Dallas Fire-Rescue suggests Cox caused the marks himself.
Brad Cox apparently had red marks and swelling on his face caused by Kyle Vess. Another member of Dallas Fire-Rescue suggests Cox caused the marks himself. Dallas County Sheriff's Department
Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedic Brad Cox was fired from the department in 2021, two years after he responded to a call for a grass fire and kicked Kyle Vess, a mentally ill man, several times as the man lay on the ground. A Dallas Police Department investigation conducted at the time cleared Cox, a former professional MMA fighter, of any wrongdoing.

When the media got ahold of the story and published video of the incident, Cox was fired and DPD decided to investigate again. That investigation was concluded in February, and the result was the same: no charges against Cox. But it does shed light on new details that raise doubts about some aspects of Cox’s account of that day, namely, the cause of his injuries. Some statements made as part of the second investigation seem to indicate that Cox caused injuries to himself for which Vess is still being accused some two years later. Vess was arrested for assaulting a public servant, but the Dallas County District Attorney's Office dropped that charge last year.

In 2019, Cox and DFR personnel with him that day were responding to a series of calls about grass fires being set on the side of a service road in West Dallas.

When firefighters saw Vess near the fires, they suspected he was the one lighting them. Vess suffers from a mental illness similar to schizophrenia. Cox has said when he tried to approach Vess about the fires, Vess attacked him, throwing a PVC pipe at him and striking him in the face.

The two tussled before Vess ended up on the ground. That’s when Cox kicked Vess several times, the former paramedic has claimed, in an attempt to defend himself. Before police officers could get Vess into cuffs, he started to sit up and Cox kicked him in the face again. DPD eventually stunned Vess with a Taser and took him into custody for assaulting a public servant. Vess was left with a broken orbital socket and sinus and cracks in his teeth. His family also said the injuries exacerbated his mental illness. Cox had some red marks on his face from the altercation.

All of this was captured by police body camera footage and a nearby surveillance camera. But none of it would see the light of day until some two years later, despite pubic integrity complaints filed against Cox's use of force.

Cox was able to keep his job that whole time, likely in part because the first DPD public integrity investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. Then, the media released the footage of Cox's run-in with Vess. Things changed quickly from there. Cox was be put on administrative leave and eventually fired. DPD conducted another investigation into Cox’s actions that day and cleared him again.  Since the new investigation was concluded in February, DPD has tried to keep related documentation from being released. But after seven months and a favorable ruling from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the investigative documents were released to the Observer on Tuesday. Cox's attorney Gerald Bright declined a request for comment, citing pending litigation.

While the results were the same, the follow-up investigation was much more thorough. Some witness testimony from that day contradicts Cox’s claim that Vess struck him.

By the time the investigation was reopened, the statute of limitations on charges of assault or official oppression had expired. District Attorney John Creuzot made note of this as well after dropping charges against Vess for assaulting a public servant. But, Vess’ family and attorney insisted charges could still be filed for injury to a disabled person, which carries a longer statute of limitations.

DPD’s second investigation aimed to determine if these charges could be filed against Cox. The first investigation was supposedly sent to Dallas Fire-Rescue Internal Affairs for administrative review. But the city has never released documents showing anything was done with the investigation once DFR got it.

From the record, it appears this latest investigation is the first time the other DFR personnel members on the scene that day have been questioned on the record by police.

The other DFR personnel members there included Lt. Judson Smith, Jose Ramirez and Robert Cotrell. They were all able to corroborate parts of Cox’s story to a DPD public integrity investigator, like the fact that Vess was aggressive and incoherent. They believed he was on drugs. His family and legal team have since said he was off his medication.

But Ramirez told DPD he didn’t see Vess strike Cox with the PVC pipe. Cotrell told DPD that Cox suggested he made the marks on his face himself, not Vess.

When Cox and the others got to the area, they first saw patches of smoking grass and began putting them out. Cox was the driver, so he stayed in the car. Then, the group saw Vess next to another patch of smoking grass. “Driver Cox left the fire engine and stomped out a small grass fire near complainant Vess, who was seated on the curb of the service road,” DPD’s new investigation notes say. “As driver Cox returned to the front of the fire engine, complainant Vess charged at and assaulted him.”

Here’s where DPD’s new investigative report seems to take some liberties. The investigative documents note that Smith and Cotrell were still dealing with the grass fires while the altercation was happening. It says Smith saw some of the altercation and requested help from DPD.

When the police arrive, Cox was standing over Vess. He said something to Vess. That’s when Vess started to sit up, and Cox delivered one of his final blows. In court documents, Vess’ legal team claims Cox told Vess repeatedly “get up again.” A DPD officer who was interviewed for the original investigation that cleared Cox said he thought this is what he heard the former paramedic saying in body camera footage. The initial public integrity investigator, DPD’s Lee Allen, disagreed, saying he heard Cox instructing Vess to not get up. He said he heard Cox saying “don’t get up again.”

The new investigation goes with Allen’s interpretation, saying that after police arrived, Cox stood over Vess and ordered him not to get up again. That’s when Vess started to sit up and “driver Cox kicked at Complainant Vess,” the investigative report says. “Complainant Vess raised his right arm to block the kick. The kick struck complainant Vess’ right forearm which then struck the right side of his face.”

"He ended up with a broken rib/fib (of course I opened with a leg kick), broken nose, and broken orbital.” – Brad Cox, former DFR paramedic

tweet this
Vess got up after he was kicked again by Cox and the two exchanged a few punches before DPD tased Vess and put him in custody. He was arrested for assaulting a public servant, Cox. As proof of the assault, DPD noted at the time that Cox had red marks on his face, allegedly from when Vess punched him. But, details from the new investigation call that into question.

DPD Sgt. Luis Cruz showed up on the scene after Vess was taken into custody. Cruz asked Cox what happened. Cox told him that Vess punched him in the face but he didn’t want to press charges. He would tell two arson investigators on the scene that day more or less the same thing, that Vess had assaulted him. He claimed Vess hit him in the face with the PVC pipe he threw and then punched Cox in the face. The DFR arson investigators were Lt. David Shelby and Capt. Derrick Cherry.

“Captain Cherry observed a small amount of blood on Driver Cox’s nose,” DPD’s new investigative report says. It also mentions that Cherry never watched the portion of surveillance footage capturing the physical altercation between Vess and Cox.

DPD would later take pictures of Cox’s injuries to document their investigation. The marks on Cox’s face can be seen clearly in the photos. But Cox may have caused the marks himself, according to at least one other firefighter on the scene that day.

Recalling Vess’ throw of the PVC pipe, Ramirez told DPD: [Vess] throws it. He throws the thing. Well, good thing. … Brad’s like ‘Alright, I’m just going to weave this.’ He weaved it, goes past his left side.”

This was captured on a surveillance camera owned by a nearby business. In this footage, Cox is pictured wearing a hat. According to DFR’s Cotrell, Cox was wearing a hat and sun glasses that day. But, later in the surveillance footage, Cox is shown without his hat.

DPD asked Cotrell what he had heard about the incident since it happened. “There was a split on Brad’s eye. Well, in the middle of his head, right here,” Cotrell told DPD. “Brad had mentioned that when he kind of got into his stance, he had sun glasses on. I guess they were kind of pushed up on his head. He had a hat and he had like sunglasses on his face. So, what he was explaining was is he pushed his hat and sunglasses up and it just caught him. That’s the only contact that I know of.”

The DPD investigator asked Cotrell to explain further. Cotrell responded, “Because they were asking him ‘Dude, what happened to your head. Did the dude hit you in the head?’ He was like ‘Nah, I pushed my sunglasses and my hat off.”

Cotrell told DPD investigators Cox did this so he could see Vess better as they started to fight.

Cotrell said he and Ramirez were newer to DFR at the time. The two said they didn’t know how to react. “I think we were kind of in shock about what happened,” Cotrell said. “We’re still new. We know that some crazy things can happen in this city and some crazy things can happen on the calls that we go to. Some really crazy things can happen.”
He added, “I think we’ve seen some stuff, but that right there. To see another department member engaging someone like that, I think it just really shocked us.”

As part of DPD’s investigation, the department obtained copies of messages Cox sent people on Facebook and Instagram. The investigative report says, “Driver Cox messaged individuals and stated ‘Last Friday I had to fight a homeless guy that was high on PCP and cocaine. He ended up with a broken rib/fib (of course I opened with a leg kick), broken nose, and broken orbital.”

Though Cox and others have insisted Vess was high, Vess told officers that day that he had only had a couple of beers earlier. His family has since said he was off his medication during the 2019 incident.

The investigators decided not to file charges against Cox because they said there was no way for him to know Vess was mentally disabled. Vess’ family declined several times to be interviewed for this investigation. It has been concluded, but its status is marked as suspended so it can be reopened if Vess wants to provide a statement.

Last year, Vess' family filed a lawsuit against Cox and the city of Dallas over the incident. In response to the suit, Cox has maintained he was just defending himself against Vess. The suit is still working its way through the courts, and Cox is trying to get his job back.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

Latest Stories