No prosecution in Black man's 2018 custody death

A suburban New Orleans district attorney says he won't prosecute four sheriff's deputies in connection with the asphyxiation death of a Black man during an arrest in 2018

ByKEVIN McGILL Associated Press
July 14, 2020, 6:58 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- No criminal charges will be filed against any of four sheriff's deputies in connection with the 2018 asphyxiation and beating death of a Black man during an arrest in 2018, a suburban New Orleans prosecutor said Tuesday.

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick released a 27-page report on his office's investigation into the death of Keeven Robinson, 22, who died as police tried to take him into custody on drug charges.

Robinson’s death has been the subject of multiple protests in Jefferson Parish since it occurred. His name was invoked by demonstrators during demonstrations the parish that followed the Minneapolis police custody death of George Floyd.

A coroner's report on Robinson's death said he died of asphyxiation and blunt force trauma, exacerbated by asthma. The coroner said there were signs of trauma on Robinson’s neck and that the death was classified as a homicide.

“While a homicide is the killing of one person by another, not every homicide is a crime,” Connick said in a news release. “As in all cases, our review must focus upon the elements of proof as well as any legal justifications or defenses that may apply.”

A forensic panel that reviewed the case, according to the report released Tuesday, determined that there was no evidence that a choke hold was used in the arrest. The report did indicate that a deputy used his knees to try to immobilize Robinson's head at one point.

"I don’t remember if I had both knees on his head, if I had one knee on his neck, if my hand was on his neck but I do remember my main focus was pinning his, pinning, his head to the ground,” the deputy is quoted as saying in one interview.

The panel's separate report cited several likely contributors to asphyxia, including pressure on Robinson's body, sharp blows to the neck that could have resulted in painful breathing, a detective's knee on Robinson's head and neck obstructing his airway, or the use of knees to immobilize Robinson's head, inhibiting his ability to move if he was having trouble breathing.

Connick said an independent expert on police training and techniques reviewed the case and determined that the deputies used justifiable force during an attempt to arrest Robinson on drug charges.

Civil lawsuits by Robinson’s family continue.

“Two of the four deputies involved in this matter remain employed by the Sheriff’s Office and are assigned to administrative duties,” Sheriff Joe Lopinto said in a brief emailed statement. “The Sheriff’s Office will conduct a review of the report issued by the District Attorney’s Office and will make appropriate internal personnel decisions based on the findings as listed in the report.”

The report said Robinson had gotten out of his car and run after crashing into a police car as deputies were pursuing him. Officers caught up with him in a yard in a residential area.

The report said deputies worried Robinson was trying to pull a weapon as he struggled to avoid arrest after deputies took him to the ground.

Connick's report said the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department also had reviewed the case and declined to bring federal charges.

“We’re not completely satisfied with the choice not to prosecute these officers, but we do understand the District Attorney’s Office has done their part, as far as the criminal case is concerned,” Hester Hilliard, an attorney for Robinson's widow, told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. “It’s now our time to do our part on the civil side to ensure that we protect the family and pursue the clear violation of Mr. Robinson’s civil rights.”

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