After a nearly two-year investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice has ruled that the Pasadena Police Department did not step outside of the law in the controversial officer-involved death of LaMont Robinson.
The department was notified of the ruling last month, but did not release the information because Police Chief Bernard Melekian was out of town when the findings were released.
Robinson died on July 10, 2004, 90 days after a pre-Easter encounter with police left him comatose.
According to a statement issued by the department, the Civil Rights Division found that “the evidence does not establish a prosecutable violation of the federal crimes civil rights statutes.”
The release also stated that, “With this finding and the finding of the District Attorney’s Office, the Pasadena Police Department considers this case closed.”
Robinson’s sister, Lisa Hosey, told the Weekly in August, 2004, that on the night of the incident, April 10, Robinson was visiting a friend who lived in a triplex on Mentone Avenue, near the 300 block of Washington Boulevard.
His sister said they spoke earlier that night and LaMont said he would be at her place for Easter dinner the next day.
Sometime later, police claim they encountered Robinson on Mentone Avenue, with what appeared to be a large amount of crack cocaine in his mouth. Officers asked him to spit it out, but he refused, authorities said. A struggle ensued and officers attempted to arrest Robinson, according to police spokeswoman Janet Pope-Givens.
Police claim they used a chokehold in an attempt to prevent him from swallowing what they believed was crack.
At some point during the scuffle, Robinson stopped breathing, either from swallowing the drugs or a lack of oxygen to the brain.
Witnesses told the Weekly a story contrary to the police version, claiming that Robinson was beaten by several officers.
Robinson was rushed to Huntington Hospital, but he never regained consciousness. Medical tests performed that night indicated normal brain activity, but 24 hours later another round of tests showed extreme swelling of the brain, indicating a global anoxic injury, the result of a lack of oxygen.
However, doctors who performed the autopsy found no damage to Robinson’s hyoid bone. Craig Harvey of the Los Angeles Department of Coroner told the Weekly that the hyoid bone is usually damaged when a victim dies as a result of a chokehold.
In a prepared statement, Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian recognized the loss suffered by Robinson’s family.
“Mr. Robinson’s death was tragic, and I certainly understand the grief that the family feels, but there was never any question in my mind as to the appropriateness of the officers’ actions,” Melekian stated.
The Robinson family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city. Carl Douglas, the family’s attorney, did not return phone calls for this story.