Baton Rouge and the city’s Police D epartment are the target of two wrongful death lawsuits brought by a family who claims police narcotics officers violently beat a man in handcuffs to death on May 2, 2013.
Dontrunner Robinson, 32, died after choking on a small bag containing a few rocks of crack cocaine he swallowed when six masked officers dressed in black kicked in his door as they served a no-knock search warrant at 4:45 p.m.
The parish Coroner’s Office ruled Robinson’s death accidental. But in similar lawsuits filed in U.S. and District courts in Baton Rouge, the family alleges four unidentified officers beat him so viciously that he was unable to swallow the bag and it got lodged in his throat, causing his death.
“If you have a small bag that you could easily swallow and I stood here and pounded on you and stomped on you, you wouldn’t be able to swallow it,” said Elbert Guillory, one of the two attorneys representing the family. Guillory also is a Republican state senator from Opelousas.
“This man is dead because of a few rocks of crack cocaine. That’s unconscionable, that’s unacceptable in America.”
The other two officers handcuffed Robinson’s wife and a landscaper at the house, the lawsuit says.
The family is suing for unspecified damages, attorneys fees and to have the officers who allegedly beat Robinson to death be tried by a jury in criminal court for their role his death.
Attempts to reach Robinson’s family Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the department, as a matter of policy, does not comment on pending litigation.
Guillory said the plaintiffs have eyewitness accounts of the beating, in addition to statements from the wife and landscaper, and photographs that show blood pooling on the floor where they say Robinson was beaten.
They also have photographs of Robinson’s body that Guillory said “will show with absolute clarity that this was a brutal, devastatingly brutal beating.”
After the beating, the lawsuit claims, officers placed Robinson and his wife close to each other. She noticed her husband was having trouble breathing and begged officers to take his handcuffs off and help him, but they refused, the suit says.
The lawsuit alleges no one called East Baton Rouge Emergency Medical Services until about 30 minutes after the beating began, though EMS records show paramedics arrived at the home at 4:52 p.m.
The officers said in the search warrant that they recovered one small crack cocaine rock, one gram of crack cocaine, two suspected marijuana cigars, a suspected crack pipe, some hydrocodone pills and 19 grams of crack cocaine from Robinson’s body.
After Robinson’s death, both the Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office conducted investigations of what happened.
The results of those investigations were not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.
Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter @ryanmbroussard.