City Hall

How a Dallas Police Investigation Cleared the Firefighter Who Kicked a Detained Man in 2019

Brad Cox is still employed by Dallas Fire-Rescue.
Brad Cox is still employed by Dallas Fire-Rescue. Dallas County Sheriff's Department
On Aug. 2, 2019, Kyle Vess was strapped to a bed at Parkland Hospital with a swollen ankle and fractures in his face.

In body camera footage obtained by the Observer, officers with the Dallas Police Department later interview Vess at the hospital to determine how badly he was injured. The officers call Vess’ mother to let her know where he is. She says she hadn’t seen him in a few days, but she’d been trying to reach him. Vess actually broke his leg the week before, which might explain the swollen ankle, his mother says.

As for the other fractures, Vess, his lawyer and his family say they were caused by Dallas firefighter Brad Cox, who kicked Vess in the face while he was on the ground.

Cox, who is a trained mixed martial artist, suspected Vess lit a grass fire that Dallas Fire-Rescue was responding to, so he and others detained him while they waited for police. The body camera footage from officers on the scene shows Cox kick Vess in the face while on the ground and then punch him when he stands up.

Vess has filed a lawsuit against Cox for detaining him and allegedly using excessive force. The city is also named in the lawsuit, which alleges the city didn’t provide adequate training on how to detain and treat mentally ill or homeless people. The suit also says the city should have already fired Cox for previous allegations of misconduct.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this year, but as Vess sat in the hospital in 2019, a public integrity investigation into Cox’s actions was already underway — an investigation that would ultimately find no criminal wrongdoing by the Dallas firefighter.

Documents obtained by the Observer detail the investigation, which concluded in November 2019. Official reports of the kick seem to vary throughout the documents. Sometimes, the kick isn’t mentioned at all. In interviews with investigators, the officers do not mention the punch Cox appears to land to Vess' head after continued to stand up after the kick to his head.
Dallas Police officers Jessica Cuddy and Zachery Johnson, as well as Dallas County Sheriff's Department officer Carmelo Garcia, were the first cops to arrive on the scene. They found Vess on the ground in front of a fire truck. In police body-camera video, Cox stands over Vess.

After the kick, the video shows, Vess attempts to get up to confront Cox, who appears to land a punch. Cuddy then zaps Vess with her Taser, and he falls to the ground.

In his report of the incident, Garcia wrote: “DPD and myself were going to place the w/m in handcuffs. The w/m tried getting up. [Dallas Fire Department] personnel attempted to kick the w/m to keep him down. The w/m got up and went after the [Dallas Fire Department] personnel.”

In Cuddy and Johnson’s incident report, made that day, they didn’t even mention the kick. Instead, their report says they witnessed Vess sprawled on the ground and then get up and try to fight with Cox.

The officers added that they both saw marks and swelling on Cox’s face. Cox told them that when he first approached Vess, he threw something at him. Trying to avoid getting hit, Cox turned away, and when he looked back, Vess began swinging at him, the incident report says. The report obtained by the Observer is heavily redacted with the entire section labeled "complainant" — that would be Cox — blacked out.

Images from surveillance video mentioned in the reports that purportedly show Vess making threatening moves toward firefighters were not released.

Cuddy joined Vess in the ambulance on the way to Parkland. On the way to the hospital, Cuddy contacted her sergeant to let him know she saw Cox assault Vess. This led Sgt. Luis Cruz to contact the public integrity unit at DPD, which sparked the investigation into Cox’s actions. Cuddy only mentions the kick in her comments to Cruz and in the report to the public integrity unit.

“Officer Cuddy [stated] she deployed the Taser on the complainant after the complainant was kicked in the head by DFR Cox." – DPD public integrity unit

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Detective Lee Allen was assigned to the public integrity unit investigation into Cox. He took pictures of the location where the incident happened. Some of the pictures show burned patches of grass on the side of the road, near where Vess was detained. The notes also say surveillance camera footage showed Vess charging Cox into oncoming traffic, and that body camera footage shows the firefighter “delivering a kick.”

Allen also spoke with Kevin Vess, Kyle’s father, about “the care of his son.” Allen said he’d want to speak with Vess when he became available. “Det. Allen made an attempt to interview Complainant Vess but was unable to because of his mental state,” the notes explain.

The investigator then interviewed officers Cuddy and Johnson on Aug. 9, 2019. “Officer Cuddy [stated] she deployed the Taser on the complainant after the complainant was kicked in the head by DFR Cox,” the notes say. Johnson was getting rubber gloves when the kick happened. Vess wasn’t back in Johnson’s line of sight until after the Taser went off. Cuddy reported the kick to Cruz, the responding supervisor at the scene.

In the ambulance, Cuddy called Cruz to tell him he needed to investigate her body camera footage because she witnessed Cox "kick the suspect while he was sitting upright on the pavement," the notes say. Cuddy also let Cruz know that she shocked Vess with the Taser after Cox kicked him. She said she did this because Vess got up and chased Cox after the kick.

Cruz also spoke to Cox, who said Vess punched him in the face. Cox refused medical treatment. The notes say when Cruz and Lt. Christopher Jaquez spoke to Vess at Parkland, he told them he was “kicked while on the ground.” During the conversation, which is documented in body camera footage, Vess can be heard saying, “He kicked me across the face.”

A Nov. 1, 2019, memo to former police Chief U. Renee Hall summarizing the public integrity investigation is labeled “secret.” For an unexplained reason, the memo identifies the involved employee as Brian Cox, Brad’s brother, who is also a firefighter with DFR.

The memo states that when law enforcement arrived, Vess was in the roadway waving his arms while Cox faced him. It says Cox can be heard instructing Vess to stay on the ground. “Complainant Vess raised up, disregarded the verbal commands and turned toward DFR Cox,” the memo says. “DFR Cox delivered one kick striking Complainant Vess in the upper torso.”

From there, Vess stands up and lunges toward Cox and gets tased by Cuddy, the memo explains, and Vess continues to be combative.

The secret memo concludes: “Investigators were unable to ascertain specific elements of a criminal offense from Complainant Vess regarding his interaction with DFR Cox. All contact between law enforcement officers and Complainant Vess were documented via audio recordings and BWC. This investigation will be classified as closed and will be forwarded to the Dallas Fire Department Internal Affairs Division for an administrative review.”

Before the incident, Vess suffered from a mental disability and still had some symptoms from a previous traumatic brain injury he'd endured. The day of the incident, Vess was off his medication, court filings say, but he’d still later be booked at Lew Sterrett with a $3,000 bail for assaulting a public servant.

The kick fractured Vess’ orbital socket and sinus and cracked his teeth, said Sean J. McCaffity, one of Vess’ attorneys. Vess now suffers from paralysis on the right side of his face, according to his lawsuit.

“If it was you or me, we may get away from that with just some fracture and a concussion,” McCaffity said. “But it wasn’t you or me. It was someone who did have a pre-existing head injury, and hitting him essentially across the side of the face and head where that injury was made it way worse. That’s why you don’t kick people in the head. You don’t know.”
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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