The day Kyle Vess was stopped by Dallas Fire-Rescue firefighters and paramedics, he still suffered from a previous traumatic brain injury and endured a mental disability.Dallas Police Department
As the state continues its investigation into Brad Cox, the former paramedic who was filmed kicking a mentally ill man in Dallas, the Department of State Health Services has decided that he can continue working.
In October, DSHS issued an emergency suspension of Cox’s license after receiving a complaint from Dallas Fire-Rescue, where Cox was employed when he kicked Kyle Vess in the head in August 2019.
Cox appealed the decision shortly after. But a corrected error in the complaint led DSHS to lift the suspension last week, the Dallas Morning News first reported Friday.
The complaint DFR sent to DSHS incorrectly identified Cox as a primary caregiver on the scene that day. DSHS lifted the suspension after DFR sent the agency amended paper work regarding the complaint.
“Because the emergency suspension in this case was connected to an imminent danger during patient care, the amended record prompted the suspension to be lifted,” a DSHS spokesperson told the News.
DSHS said it can still take action against Cox at the conclusion of its investigation.
LaNae Vess, Kyle's mom, told the Observer she was concerned about Cox getting his license back. "The DSHS office removing the 'Emergency Suspension' is giving him the opportunity to do the same thing to someone else’s family member," LaNae Vess said.
She said Cox had a history of alleged misconduct, including an incident in 2016 when he falsified a report in order to cover his failure to render aid to a mentally ill homeless man. The man, Hirschell Wayne Fletcher Jr., had been robbed an assaulted outside of a soup kitchen. Police assumed he was drunk, and Cox, as well as another DFR paramedic named Kyle Clark, cleared Fletcher to be taken to the Dallas Marshal’s Office and City Detention Center. He was found unresponsive in his cell and died later at the hospital.
Cox and Clark wrote their reports as if Fletcher was taken to the detention center before they arrived on the scene. They pled guilty to falsifying the reports in 2019. Fletcher's family is also suing the city and the paramedics.
"... what more do they need to realize he doesn’t need to be on the streets, much less in contact with innocent people pretending to be a caregiver?" LaNae Vess said. "I would be concerned that DFR will find a way to give him back his job just so he can get his retirement pension in. He was extremely close to 20 year’s service."
Cox was one of several DFR firefighters and paramedics who responded to a series of grass fires along a service road in West Dallas one day in August 2019. When they arrived, they found Vess, who was staying at a nearby hotel at the time, and believed he was starting the fires. Vess experiences symptoms similar to schizophrenia.
An altercation ensued between Vess and Cox. During the incident, Vess ended up on the ground, where Cox kicked him repeatedly. Then the police showed up.
As Dallas police officers waited for backup to take Vess in, Cox stood above him. Vess began to sit up and look toward Cox, but the former paramedic kicked him in the right side of his face.
One of the officers on the scene that day reported the kick to their sergeant, which prompted a public integrity investigation into Cox. That investigation cleared Cox of any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Vess was stuck facing a charge of assaulting a public servant for allegedly hitting Cox that day.
Vess’ family filed a lawsuit this year against Cox for detaining Kyle and using excessive force. The lawsuit also names the city, and claims Dallas protects its bad apples and doesn’t properly train employees.
The city of Dallas is trying to get the case dismissed, saying it’s not liable for any harm done that day. Cox is claiming qualified immunity, a controversial legal defense that essentially claims public employees can’t be held liable.
In the latest filing on record, Dallas asked the court to withhold evidence in the case until there’s a ruling on the motion to dismiss and Cox’s qualified immunity defense. Cox's attorney and the city have declined to comment about the incident, citing the pending litigation.
Before firing him, DFR put Cox on paid administrative leave. A few days later, DFR sent its own complaint to DSHS regarding Cox and the 2019 incident.
Cox told police Vess assaulted him and that he had to defend himself. Vess left the incident with fractures in his face and cracks in his teeth. His family says Vess was permanently changed that day, claiming the strikes exacerbated his mental illness and the symptoms of a prior traumatic head injury. Cox had red marks on his face, evidence that Vess hit him, police said.
The footage first shows Vess on a curb along the service road. Then, it cuts and Cox appears, walking away from the firetruck. He starts stomping out a patch of grass that appears smoky. Then, the footage cuts again. In the next clip, Vess is on his feet facing Cox, who has his arm out in front of him. Vess moves toward Cox, taking a swing and throwing a piece of PVC pipe at him. Both seem to miss.
The two then go out of the camera’s view, obstructed by the firetruck. Vess is then seen falling to the ground where Cox kicks him repeatedly.
During a press conference this year, Vess claimed that Cox got out of the firetruck and kicked him while he was on the ground before he ever took a swing at the paramedic. But the very beginning of the footage has never been released, and it’s uncertain whether or not it still exists.
DPD says every part of the surveillance footage it received during the public integrity investigation into Cox has been released without redactions.
Lee Allen, the public integrity investigator, said he reached out to the Pecan Deluxe Candy Factory, which owned the camera, for the footage. Allen said the full version was too big to be sent via email. Instead, the business cut up the footage and sent it in separate files. The business hasn’t responded to the Observer’s multiple inquiries over the last few months about the video.
Allen, whose investigation cleared Cox, defended the former paramedic's actions that day in an interview with the Observer in October.
“Even when you go back to the body worn camera when he was kicked, Kyle has not been searched," Allen said. "If Kyle reaches into that waistband, jacket or whatever, or boot, and grabs a weapon, now he becomes a bigger problem. … I’m looking at that as, ‘He has got to dominate that situation fast before it turns ugly because … those firemen are not stepping in to help.”
Vess' family has called on DPD to arrest Cox over the incident, saying he could be charged with injury to a disabled person. "I am still waiting on them to arrest [Cox]," LaNae Vess said.
She added: "They arrested Kyle and covered everything up for two years. Kyle’s life came to a complete stop and he has dealt with horrible conditions for the last two and a half years. Not to mention all the stress, and heartache that we endured along with him while Brad Cox was able to enjoy his life, spend time with his family, and do whatever he pleased this whole time. I think it’s time for him to experience what he has put us through."
DPD said it is still reviewing its investigation into Cox and hopes to be done in the near future. A spokesperson for DPD said Monday, "There were some investigative concerns that [are] being re-visited," but couldn't comment further.
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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.