Lawsuit: Officers used excessive force, attempted cover-up

Published: Jan. 10, 2018 at 4:23 PM EST
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Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018

ATLANTA (AP) — Law enforcement officers used excessive force when they shot a schizophrenic Georgia man at least 59 times in August 2016 and then tried to cover up their actions by tampering with evidence, lawyers for his mother assert in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Officers serving an arrest warrant broke down the front door of an apartment in East Point and "without cause or provocation" began "spraying" the inside of an East Point apartment with bullets, killing 26-year-old Jamarion Rashad Robinson, lawyers for his mother, Monteria Najuda Robinson, wrote in the lawsuit. The officers were aware that Jamarion Robinson had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but failed to investigate his mental health status before trying to arrest him and weren't properly trained to arrest people with psychiatric conditions, the lawsuit says.

Three Atlanta police officers were among those named in the lawsuit. Atlanta police Sgt. John Chafee said in an email that the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation. Representatives from other agencies whose officers are named did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a news release the day after the shooting that gunfire erupted when members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force made contact with Robinson inside the apartment. Witnesses and videos show that officers gave numerous verbal commands for Robinson to put down a weapon, the GBI said.

GBI agents found a handgun and multiple spent rounds "believed to be associated with Robinson," the release said.

East Point police said after the shooting that Robinson was suspected of shooting at Atlanta officers about 10 days earlier on July 27, 2016.

Andrew M. Stroth, a Chicago-based attorney representing Robinson's mother, said he doesn't believe Robinson fired at Atlanta officers. He also said the narrative provided by police about Robinson's shooting is not consistent with witness accounts that he said he and others have gathered.

"We're fighting to make sure the individual officers that made up the task force are held responsible for their unjustified and unconstitutional actions," Stroth said. "In addition, we're seeking reform of the policies and procedures of these departments. You've got a group of rogue officers unconstitutionally violating folks' rights in Atlanta."

Monteria Robinson said her son was a biology major at Tuskegee University, where he played football. She remembered him as a funny and caring son who called his grandmother every day. He was diagnosed in December 2015 with paranoid schizophrenia, she said.

"Please do not ignore my plea because I am just another black mother suffering through what has become far too common an occurrence for black families here in this nation," she said at a news conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in Atlanta.

The lawsuit says officers knocked loudly on the front door of the apartment multiple times and then broke the door down and began shooting without knowing how many people were inside.

At least one officer then went up to a second-floor landing, where Robinson's body lay and took steps to cover up the officers' actions, including setting off a flash-bang grenade, firing two bullets into his body, handcuffing his body, putting an oxygen mask on his body and moving his body to the first floor. Those actions were taken to make it difficult or impossible to accurately reconstruct the shooting, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was filed against eight named law enforcement officers from a number of different law enforcement agencies, as well as 11 unidentified officers. It alleges that the officers violated Robinson's constitutional rights, using excessive force, manipulating evidence and falsifying reports.

The lawsuit seeks "substantial actual or compensatory damages" for violations of state law and Robinson's constitutional rights, as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.

The GBI has turned over the results of its investigation to the Fulton County district attorney, agency spokeswoman Nelly Miles said. A spokeswoman for the district attorney didn't immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment on the status of the case.

The family hasn't gotten any information from law enforcement about what happened, and filing a federal lawsuit allows them to have subpoena power to get documents from law enforcement, Stroth said.

"The family wants the truth," he said. "Let's find out the truth of what happened to Jamarion Robinson and let's hold those officers accountable."