In an extraordinarily rare move, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard on Friday accused federal authorities of repeatedly hindering his office’s investigation into a police shooting by ignoring requests for information and even telling officers not to talk.
Jamarion Robinson, 26, who had played football at Clark Atlanta University and struggled with schizophrenia, was shot by officers 59 times on Aug. 5, 2016. The officers with several metro agencies and U.S. Marshals were trying to serve an arrest warrant on Robinson for allegedly firing a gun at officers in a previous encounter. Howard’s allegations about the case were detailed in a lawsuit he filed Friday against the U.S. Department of Justice in federal court.
Howard said the Justice Department hasn’t released requested records about the shooting and has “blocked” his investigators from interviewing officers involved in the death for more than a year and a half. The DA’s office has also filed subpoenas for cooperation by this coming February.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” Howard said in a news conference about the suit. “My hope was the federal authorities would cooperate and provide this office — and this family — with all of the information about this incident. I cannot understand why they have not done it.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the allegations.
Howard said the information and interviews are critical to understanding why the officers, who were said to be with the U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force, took the actions they did. There was a weapon found in the East Point apartment where Robinson died and the DA said part of why he needs the information is to find out if it played a role.
Howard said he has so far learned that only a few of the 14 officers on scene that day fired at Robinson. He believes the officers knew of Robinson’s mental troubles, but it isn’t clear if they considered it in how they approached the attempted apprehension.
Fulton prosecutors have been able to interview three of the officers who didn’t fire. What they said contradicted previous statements in records that officers had to shoot Robinson to “protect” the people in the apartment, the DA said, particularly because there was only one person inside: Robinson.
Other officers have told the Fulton DA’s office that the Department of Justice told them not to talk, according to Howard. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, which is under the DOJ, offered to let his prosecutors interview officers but with restrictions on what they can ask, which the DA said wasn’t acceptable.
Howard said, though the difficulties are greater than normal with the DOJ, he didn’t think it was a result of the Trump administration.
Robinson’s mother, Monteria Robinson, thanked Howard.
“We ask, if there’s nothing to hide, then why not produce the information?” she said.
An earlier federal lawsuit filed on her behalf in January said Jamarion Robinson posed no threat at the time of his death. That complaint accused police of knocking at the apartment door, then immediately breaking it down and “spraying” gunfire. The suit also alleged that the marshal or marshals involved with the task force tampered with evidence by handcuffing Robinson after he was dead and throwing a flash grenade into the apartment to cover up evidence.
The mother’s suit is against various local governments and 11 officers. It remains the subject of grappling in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, where attorneys for the defendants have been arguing against it and trying to get it thrown out.
Monteria Robinson she just wants the truth about why her son died. His death has left an awful void, she said, starting to tear up. His little nephew keeps asking, “Where’s Unc?” The boy thinks Robinson is in the hospital and wonders if he’ll be there forever.
Howard declined to speculate on what charges, if any, he could file in the case. To make such a decision, he said he needs to understand how and why the shooting happened.
“It is very unusual, at least in our county, to be shot 59 times – by anybody,” he said.
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