A former DeKalb County police sergeant accused of ordering the beatings of four young suspects attempted to cover up his complicity by exploiting the blue wall of silence, prosecutors said Thursday in opening statements at DeKalb County Superior Court.
The first day of testimony in the trial of Sgt. Anthony Remone Robinson offered a revealing glimpse into the culture of a department that was, at the time of the alleged beatings, wracked by scandal. A 2013 investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that more than 25 percent of DeKalb’s 900-plus officers had been hit with at least three internal affairs complaints within the previous five years.
The case against Robinson originated from a November 2011 incident at police headquarters that led to the dismissal of officers Blake Norwood and Arthur Parker, who will appear as witnesses for the state. Travarrius Williams, who was in custody over a suspected burglary, spotted Parker in the police station and accused him of wrongly arresting his brother.
Robinson overheard Williams and told the 18-year-old suspect, “We don’t let people disrespect us like that in our house,” DeKalb Assistant District Attorney Buffy Thomas told the court.
Robinson then said to Parker and Norwood, “Take (Williams) behind the shed and tighten him up,” Thomas said. The shed refers to the area where officers parked their off-duty vehicles.
Parker interpreted that as a command to “beat him up,” the prosecutor said.
Robinson was misunderstood, said defense co-counsel William McKenney.
“There will be no evidence Sgt. Robinson told them to beat (these suspects),” he told jurors.
'Breath Knocked Out'
The brazen attack, which occurred in the afternoon during a shift change, was witnessed by Officer Jesse LeBlanc, who reported it to his supervisor, Sgt. Thad Golden.
LeBlanc was “heartbroken” by what he saw, Golden testified Thursday. “He could hear the breath being knocked out of the kid.”
An investigation was opened immediately. Parker and Norwood were separated. Robinson, acting beyond his rank and violating protocol, said Golden, questioned whether LeBlanc was telling the truth. LeBlanc testified he eventually resigned from the DeKalb force because of the backlash he received after reporting the beatings.
Meanwhile, Robinson huddled with Parker, telling him he “has his back,” Thomas said. The state alleges Robinson instructed Parker to tell internal affairs that Williams, the suspect, provoked the beating by spitting on the officers. Parker, according to prosecutors, then texted Norwood with their new story.
In his opening statement, McKenney said Robinson was scapegoated by two “rogue officers” who fingered their commanding officer in order to evade prison.
Parker and Norwood pleaded guilty last month to lesser charges in exchange for their testimony. The two officers received identical sentences of 10 years probation and were ordered to perform 200 hours of community service work.
Robinson, a 15-year law enforcement veteran, is charged with 10 felonies, including aggravated assault and battery, in a 15-count indictment. He faces a maximum sentence of 150 years in prison.
'No Complaints Made'
Initially, Robinson's two accusers protected their supervisor, but two months later, Norwood fingered Robinson in an interview with investigators from the DeKalb district attorney’s office.
“(Williams) never did anything to us,” said Thomas, quoting Norwood. “We beat him because we were told to beat him by Sgt. Robinson because he was being disrespectful.”
It was not the first time, Norwood said. He told prosecutors about a 2010 incident involving three teens, ages 15 and 16, suspected in a car theft. Norwood said he and Parker, along with another officer, were ordered to handcuff the teens and beat them.
“There’s no medicals, no juvenile intake,” McKenney said. “So basically you’re going to have to take their word. No complaints were made by their parents or them.”
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