Pubdate: Fri, 04 Feb 2005
Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Copyright: 2005 The Commercial Appeal
Author: Chris Conley
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


City Negotiates With Son Of Gravedigger; $1 Million-Plus At Stake

A botched drug raid by Memphis police that killed a gravedigger in 2002 has 
spawned a probe into whether evidence was planted, and it could cost 
taxpayers more than $1 million.

The federal civil case against three narcotics officers, which went to 
trial in October and ended with a nearly $3 million award for Jeffery 
Robinson's family, raises questions about department policy on drug raids.

A second case against the City of Memphis is separate.

Testimony in the October case convinced jurors that officers not only 
wrongly killed Robinson, 41, a gravedigger and caretaker at Baron Hirsch 
Cemetery, but tried to cover it up.

Officers Mark Lucas, Albert Bonner and Jeffrey Simcox were never disciplined.

And now, Memphis city attorneys are negotiating with attorneys for 
Robinson's son, Jarvis Robinson, to settle a lawsuit against the city. More 
than $1 million is at stake.

Police officials Thursday referred calls about the case to City Atty. Sara 
Hall. Attempts to reach her or the officers' attorneys were unsuccessful.

The two sides have agreed on a dollar amount and are waiting for city 
officials' approval, court records show.

A trial set to begin Feb. 18 has been canceled.

In that trial, the city's police training and procedures would have come 
under attack.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said the 
agency has been investigating since late last year whether evidence in the 
case was manufactured or hidden.

And regardless whether criminal charges are ever filed, the case has 
documented poor decisions and mishandled evidence.

In a civil trial, the standard for proof is lower than in a criminal trial.

Attorneys representing the family posed these questions during the 
officers' trial:

Why did experienced narcotics officers take an informant's word that 
someone was selling drugs from the cemetery building?

What exactly are the training procedures for drug officers? The trial 
showed there is no manual for drug officers and no specific training.

Why didn't they perform a simple surveillance of the building, as is customary?

And why was evidence mishandled?

The box cutter that officers said Robinson threatened them with was never 

A polo shirt of Robinson's, taken by police, shows no blood stains, no 
powder burns and no bullet holes.

In December 2002, Robinson's family filed a civil rights and wrongful death 

Shot through the jaw and neck, Robinson was paralyzed when the bullet hit 
his spine.

He died six weeks later from pneumonia, brought on by the gunshot wound.

The jury told U.S. Dist. Judge Jon McCalla they believed the officers 
killed Robinson without justification and tampered with evidence to cover 
their mistake.

They awarded the family $2.85 million in damages.

After an informant told them someone named "Carl" or "Snag" was selling 
marijuana or cocaine from the cemetery building, on July 30, 2002, the 
officers went to Robinson's home on the cemetery grounds at 1523 Rozelle in 
South Memphis.

One hour later, officers kicked in the door to the small outbuilding and 
shot Robinson in his bedroom, trial evidence showed.

There were conflicting stories about what happened next, but officers 
contended Robinson came at Officer Mark Lucas with a box cutter and that 
Lucas fired in self-defense.

Officers described a chaotic scene with lots of shouting and contradictory 
commands, one officer telling Robinson to put his hands up, another to put 
them down.

Paramedics said they saw no box cutter near the body.

Former Shelby County Medical Examiner O.C. Smith testified the shooting 
couldn't have happened the way the police said.

The family's attorneys say the box cutter was taken from a closed or locked 
toolbox and planted next to Robinson after he was shot.

The box cutter was never fingerprinted.

The officers found a small amount of marijuana in a camper in Robinson's 
backyard and charged him with drug possession. He was also charged with 
aggravated assault, but prosecutors never took the case to a grand jury. By 
then Robinson was dead.


July 30, 2002: Armed with a warrant based on an informant's tip, Memphis 
police burst into Jeffery Robinson's apartment and shoot him through the neck.

Sept. 16, 2002: Robinson dies.

Oct. 15, 2004: Civil jury awards $2.85 million to Robinson's family after 
finding that Officer Mark Lucas used excessive force and falsified 
evidence, that Officer Jeffrey Simcox falsified evidence, and that Officer 
Albert Bonner falsified evidence and falsely arrested Robinson.
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