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DA: No Criminal Charges to Police in Death During Arrest

08.25.2020

Six-Person Team from The Forensic Panel Credited With Bringing Definitive Word on Mechanism of Death, Nature of Force, Role of Asthma

New Orleans – Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick announced recently that he will not bring criminal charges against the officers in whose custody Keeven Robinson died on May 10, 2018. The fatal encounter occurred while police attempted to apprehend Mr. Robinson on cocaine and heroin trafficking charges. Mr. Robinson, who was on parole, had a history of resisting arrest, illegal use of a firearm, and aggravated assault.

 

Mr. Robinson, recognizing that he was about to be arrested, fled in his vehicle and crashed into a police car, then fled on foot through a residential neighborhood, with officers in pursuit. The chase involved Mr. Robinson running from the officers through several yards, scaling fences along the way, and culminating with Mr. Robinson being cornered between a six-foot wooden fence and a shed located in the rear yard of a private home. Unbeknownst to police, when Mr. Robinson fled his vehicle to try to elude arresting officers, he left a loaded pistol behind in his car.

 

Mr. Robinson then struggled with police, four of whom finally subdued him while he fought with them and attempted to reach below his waist. When it became apparent that Mr. Robinson had become unresponsive, the detectives immediately initiated resuscitation and called for EMS. It was at that time that they noticed an asthma inhaler on the ground nearby, believed to have been in his pocket. EMS continued resuscitative efforts but Mr. Robinson was soon thereafter pronounced dead at Ochsner Hospital. An autopsy revealed blunt force injuries and signs of compressional asphyxia. 

 

Because of the nature and number of different injuries, conflicting testimony of witnesses as to what had transpired, Mr. Robinson’s history of asthma, District Attorney Connick sought out The Forensic Panel to provide a peer reviewed medical death investigation of:

 

1) What was the most likely cause of death?

2) What was the most likely mechanism of death?

3) How did asthma and other medical conditions contribute to the death?

4) How did drugs or alcohol contribute to the death?

5) How, from a medical perspective, could various and contradictory accounts be reconciled with the available medical evidence?

 

To explore the above, The Forensic Panel assigned forensic pathologist Marcella Fierro, M.D., the former Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, as its primary examiner. Dr. Fierro’s review of evidence was prospectively peer reviewed by five colleagues – forensic pathologists David Fowler, M.D., Victor Weedn, M.D., Ljubisa Dragovic, M.D., William Anderson, M.D., and pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist Vera DePalo, M.D.

 

After a review of 27 source materials, peer review case conferences, and scrutiny of the most recent literature findings in compression injuries, asphyxia, and hypoxia, Dr. Fierro and her colleagues produced a 31 page report of The Forensic Panel’s findings. These included that Mr. Robinson died from a combination of compression asphyxia and blunt force injuries.

 

The compression was exerted on the front and from the left, affecting both the airway and carotid artery, but injuries were not consistent with a choke hold. Dr. Fierro and colleagues used the available statements to clearly and specifically correlate anatomic vectors of compression with the reported positioning of three officers with whom Mr. Robinson was struggling. The struggle also included blunt force injuries that, by virtue of how Mr. Robinson was positioned, explain a vascular tear and cervical spine injuries as well.

 

Asthma, concluded The Panel, may have contributed to the death, but no more than incidentally. No other medical findings or toxicology played a role in the death. Notwithstanding the various injuries described, the medical and physical evidence was consistent with officers’ accounts – and contradicted accounts of civilian witnesses presented by the decedent's family.

 

Mr. Connick appraised The Forensic Panel’s findings through the prism of training and regulations in police decisions in use of force, consulting Ken Katsaris for his expertise. Mr. Katsaris opined that Mr. Robinson’s actions to determinedly pull something out from under his waist, given his known criminal history, reflected the potential deadly threat of a possible weapon to officers from whom he was desperately struggling to escape. Each of the officer’s interventions, wrote Mr. Katsaris, were different approaches to pin Mr. Robinson to the ground and prevent life-endangering circumstances. The possibility for unintended lethal force by officers repositioning themselves in such an extreme struggle was a consequence.

 

Mr. Connick concluded after his review of the evidence that, “our investigation determined that Robinson’s death occurred while he was resisting a lawful arrest…and under circumstances where the force used to counter his resistance was justified.” The DA’s findings of this high profile case were met with various reactions in the New Orleans area – but all peaceful and with no violence, no intimidation, no degrading of civil order, and no cannibalism of police resources or public safety.

 

“We’ve learned important lessons on the study of vulnerability that we’ve found apply to cases of disputed wills and trusts and questions of one’s competency to invest,” explains Dr. Welner, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. “The Forensic Panel’s experience on the cutting edge of assessing undue influence has led to protocols for best practices in assessment that we hope to publish and share with the litigation community.”

 

Reflecting on the quiet outcome during times of tumult, Michael Welner, M.D., Chairman of The Forensic Panel, observed, “The Forensic Panel’s consistent track record of being definitive continues to be demonstrated by the silence we create, where others make noise or amplify controversy. I congratulate Dr. Fierro and all of her colleagues for their outstanding work and the confidence they inspire because of our attention to all of the available evidence. We continue to demonstrate that in the investigation of death in police custody, the world class talents of The Forensic Panel and our methodology for safeguarding objectivity and ensuring investigative diligence that tethers to the most updated of scientific understanding, is a difference maker not only for legal resolution, but conflict resolution as well.”

 

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To read the report of JPDA Paul Connick, click here.

To read the The Forensic Panel’s report on Keeven Robinson’s death, click here.