On Thursday, 22-year-old Keeven Robinson died shortly after a chase and “brief struggle” with narcotics detectives from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.
At first, authorities hinted that his death may have been related to his medical history of asthma, the Washington Post reports, noting that an air-quality alert had warned residents of unhealthy ozone levels that day.
However, when a young black man dies at the hands of police, tensions and suspicions run high. Robinson’s family was not convinced.
On Monday, a Jefferson Parish coroner vindicated some of those suspicions, confirming that an autopsy had concluded that Robinson’s death was a homicide.
To be precise, the cause of death was ruled “compressional asphyxia,” with an autopsy Saturday showing “significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck,” the coroner, Gerald Cvitanovich, announced in a news conference.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto declined to release the names of the four plainclothes narcotics detectives involved in the arrest. However, Lopinto acknowledged that all four were white, and that they have since been reassigned to desk work while Robinson’s death is investigated to determine whether detectives were justified in their use of force.
“The reality of it is they were in a fight with this gentleman,” Lopinto said.
Lopinto told reporters last week that Robinson was at the center of a narcotics investigation, having been suspected of dealing drugs. At the time, Robinson was supposedly carrying a white powdered substance, which Lopinto said was believed to be heroin.
On Thursday, Robinson pulled over at a Shell gas station, saw the detectives coming and fled in his car, hitting the vehicle of one of the detectives on the way out of the gas station.
The detectives, who were in plain clothes at the time, had displayed their badges, authorities said. They chased Robinson’s vehicle until Robinson hit another one of the detectives’ vehicles, officials said. Robinson then abandoned his car and fled on foot, jumping several fences, and police gave chase.
Ultimately, detectives caught up with Robinson and, after a “brief struggle,” handcuffed him. Lopinto said that Robinson stopped breathing, prompting detectives to start CPR. Robinson was then taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“Somebody’s family actually lost a life, and I’m very cognizant of that,” Lopinto said. “That doesn’t mean our officers did anything wrong, or it may mean that they did something wrong.”
Lopinto shied away from concluding that detectives used a choke hold during their arrest, citing the ongoing investigation. However, he said that while officers are not trained to perform a choke hold on a normal basis, “they’re not forbidden from doing that.”
Lopinto said that his detectives were cooperating and noted that Louisiana State Police would be conducting its own investigation. The FBI’s Civil Rights Task Force is also investigating.
“I understand that this investigation will be under a microscope. I understand it fully,” Lopinto said. “I have every faith in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office to do their job and to do it correctly. I know they have the expertise because this is what they do every day. But I also understand that an independent set of eyes is something that’s appropriate in a case like this.”
As the Post notes, Jefferson Parish is Louisiana’s largest law enforcement agency and has recently been under intense scrutiny (and slammed by lawsuits) because of accusations that narcotics officers are using excessive force.
On Monday night, members of Robinson’s family, activists and other residents took to the streets in protest, chanting “Enough is enough,” and holding signs that read, “Justice for Keeven.”
In the meantime, an attorney representing Robinson’s family noted that they will be seeking an independent autopsy.
“Today is just as hard as Thursday for this family,” attorney Hester Hilliard said. “They are grieving and today they had to find out that Keeven lost his life at the hands of another.
“Now it’s time for us to move on to making funeral arrangements for a 22-year-old that should not have died,” she added. “So we ask the public and everyone to pray with this family that they will be strong … and that justice will come for Keeven.”