National News

Black Man Died From Asphyxiation in Louisiana Arrest, Coroner Finds

Posted May 15, 2018 1:32 p.m. EDT

Four white sheriff’s deputies in Louisiana have been placed on administrative duty after the death of a black man who suffered “significant traumatic injuries to the neck” during an arrest near New Orleans last week, authorities said.

With a criminal inquiry in its early stages, officials have not yet decided whether to charge any of the deputies in connection with the death of the man, Keeven Robinson.

Robinson, 22, died Thursday after a foot pursuit and a struggle with deputies who were working as undercover narcotics agents, Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III of Jefferson Parish said. The sheriff said officials were examining whether the deputies used excessive force. Robinson, whose family has raised questions about his death, suffered from asthma.

“Our officers were read their rights, they cooperated, they gave statements,” Lopinto said. “I understand that at the end, this investigation will be under a microscope. I understand it fully.”

Lopinto, who declined to identify the detectives who are subjects of the inquiry, reached his decision to reassign the deputies after the parish’s coroner classified Robinson’s death as a homicide. The ruling — a medical judgment, not a legal one — reverberated loudly through the New Orleans region. More than 100 people protested Monday evening in Jefferson Parish, among the most populous Louisiana parishes.

The coroner, Dr. Gerald Cvitanovich, said the findings of his office’s preliminary autopsy were that Robinson’s death was “consistent with compressional asphyxia.” A final autopsy report is not expected for several weeks.

Louisiana has had particularly tense debates about police conduct and race in recent years. Robinson’s death came less than three months after Louisiana authorities declined to charge two Baton Rouge police officers in connection with the fatal shooting of Alton B. Sterling in July 2016. Federal prosecutors have also refused to bring charges in that case, which led to large protests in Baton Rouge, the state capital.

In Jefferson Parish this week, civil rights activists welcomed the inquiry into Robinson’s death. Gaylor A. Spiller, the president of the local NAACP chapter, said she was “so far satisfied” with the coroner’s review and the sheriff’s decision to reassign the deputies.

Even so, she said, “I will not go away.”

Lopinto has already rebuffed some calls for him to end undercover work, and he said he expected his office to proceed normally for now.

“The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office has an obligation to the citizens of Jefferson Parish, and we get complaints all day long from drug activity within Jefferson Parish itself,” he said. “Our operations will continue. These particular officers will be put on administrative duty, but we’re not going to suspend operations because of one incident.”