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Seeking the truth


Mysteries and cries of mistreatment loom over the death of Robin Leander Howard while in police custody.

Clifton Adcock September 4th, 2012

The death of Oklahoma City resident Robin Leander Howard, 54, while in police custody has left his family with many unanswered questions.

Robin Howard

 

The case is a controversial one for the Oklahoma City Police Department. Chief Bill Citty admitted that it was a mistake that family members were not informed of Howard’s death until four days later.

The police department is not releasing documents related to the investigation, and has turned the completed investigation over to District Attorney David Prater, who will decide whether or not to file charges, Citty said.

Family members alleged the delay was part of a police cover-up, and have tried unsuccessfully to get more information from police about what occurred the day of his arrest.

“We just want to seek justice. We want the truth,” said Howard’s sister, Kimberly Turner. “We want the real truth. We don’t want something made up or something someone is saying for their convenience. We want the truth and to be treated with respect.”


Fracture in time
Public documents provide some clues.

Around 1:25 p.m. on June 19, OKCPD gang enforcement officers Jeff Coffey, a four-year veteran, and Doug Grady, a six-year veteran, attempted to stop the vehicle being driven by Howard. According to the department, a short chase ensued when Howard failed to stop.

The chase ended when Howard crashed into another car and then a pole in the 1400 block of Monticello Court. He then tried to flee on foot, according to an OKCPD statement. When officers caught up to him, Howard resisted and the officers used force to detain him.

Howard was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. An ambulance was called, but then dismissed by the police, who transported him to Southwest Medical Center. An examination there revealed Howard was suffering from multiple fractured ribs, a fractured arm and other injuries, according to a report from the Oklahoma state medical examiner.

Howard was alert, even participating in an interview by OKCPD internal affairs officers investigating the use of force, until June 23. At that time, he became lethargic, fell into a coma and had to be revived three times that night, eventually dying the next morning, according to the medical examiner.

The medical examiner’s office ruled the cause of death as pneumonia precipitated by blunt force trauma to the chest. The manner was ruled to be homicide.

Upon Howard’s death, internal affairs turned the case over to homicide investigators, Citty said.


Force justified?
Family members said they were unaware of Howard’s whereabouts during the time he was hospitalized to the car was minimal, said the family’s attorney, David Slane, and the air bags did not deploy in the crash.

Citty said he believed the use for force played a role in the death, although whether that force was justified is yet to be determined by Prater.

Citty confirmed that the family was not notified of Howard’s death until four days after.

The officer responsible for contacting the family failed to do so and failed to notify a supervisor that he was unable to, Citty said. It was only when homicide detectives assigned to the case noticed that no notification took place that the family was contacted.

“We take that very seriously, and we did drop the ball on that. We take responsibility for that,” Citty said. “There’s legitimate complaint there based on the fact that we didn’t make notification in a timely enough manner [as] we should have.”


Past problems
Howard has a history of drug possession and running from police, according to court records.

Following drug convictions in 1987, 1993 and 1999, Howard was arrested again in 2007, this time in Enid, for possession of 5.1 grams of crack cocaine.

The events that led to his arrest in Enid bear some similarities to the current case.

According to the probable cause affidavit, the property manager of an apartment complex called police to check out a suspicious vehicle with two men inside harassing people as they walked by. When police arrived, the vehicle fled the scene, but crashed a short distance away.

The driver fled on foot. Officers found documents in the vehicle — and confirmed with the vehicle’s passenger — that it was Howard who fled the scene, the court documents state. During their search, police also uncovered a joint and the crack, and a warrant for Howard’s arrest was issued.

He was arrested in Logan County on drug and driving under the influence charges. He later pleaded guilty to Garvin County charges of drug trafficking. He spent about three years in prison on a 10-year sentence, being released in December 2011, according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections documents.

Contrary to OKCPD information, court records show that the active war rant at the time of Howard’s most recent arrest was a bench warrant for failure to pay court costs related to the drug trafficking case, not an arrest warrant for drug trafficking.


Current situation
Slane believes the police department claimed the outstanding warrant was for drug trafficking in an attempt to divert blame toward Howard. Slane said the family has been stonewalled in attempts to access files related to his case.

“This family has not threatened a lawsuit. This family has not done any thing except ask for the truth of what happened,” Slane said. “I can’t believe a family has had to go to the lengths it has to find out what happened to its loved one.”

Citty said that if Prater fails to file charges, OKCPD administrators will examine the case. Until the investigation files come out either in criminal filings or through a civil lawsuit, they are not public record.

Those explanations are not good enough for Howard’s family.

“He died at their hands,” Turner said. “We have seen the medical reports. We don’t understand what the problem is. Why can’t the truth come out?” In late August, Rev. Jesse Jackson visited with Howard’s family while in Oklahoma for a speaking engagement at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Stillwater.

Jackson said he would consider returning to show support for Howard’s family, Slane said. Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition has yet to confirm whether he will return.

“We know he’s polarizing, but will hopefully bring more attention to the case and help get to the bottom of this case,” Slane said.

 
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