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Jackson’s action

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Jesse Jackson with members
of Robin Howard's family
Credit: Shannon Cornman

The
54-year-old Howard died June 23 from pneumonia caused by blunt force
trauma to the chest following a confrontation four days earlier with
Oklahoma City police officers. The death was ruled a homicide by the
state medical examiner.

Jackson
came to OKC last week to support the Howard family’s quest to obtain
full disclosure of the police department’s criminal and administrative
investigations. More than 100 demonstrators — including Jackson, Howard
family members and leaders of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union
chapter and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People — marched from police headquarters to city hall.

The
family and their attorney, David Slane, contend police officials have
withheld important information regarding the use of force in connection
with Howard’s death.

“This is becoming a national issue just like Rodney King,” Jackson told Oklahoma Gazette. “We’re
going to be looking at records from the last three years and how many
people have died while in police custody and at the jail. This man
(Howard) didn’t puncture his own lungs.”

Jackson
accused Oklahoma City police of a coverup to protect the officers
involved in the alleged beating of Howard, who had a history of
drug-related offenses.

“This
is nothing but the blue code of silence,” he said at a March 19 news
conference. “Here is an unarmed man in police custody and he’s alive,
but he comes out dead. We demand the records now.”

Police
Chief Bill Citty acknowledged he did not provide copies of the reports
but did share “quite a bit” of information about the case.

“We
did not provide all of the officers’ statements, and we wouldn’t. But
this is going to end up in litigation, anyway,” the chief said.

Slane
said police shared only a few facts about the incident. Police
investigative reports and field notes are not considered public record.

Jackson
said the issue “will get bigger and bigger” until the Howard family
receives all documents related to the death. He said he intends to shine
a national spotlight on the death of Howard, who was black, making a
commitment to return to Oklahoma City to “expand the [public]
demonstrations.”

Jackson
also plans to seek help from leaders in Congress, including U.S. Rep.
John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary
Committee.

Citty said he would welcome such inquiries.

Credit: Shannon Cornman

“If
the Justice Department wants to come in and look at that, it’s fine.
We’re a public entity, and we have to be open,” he said.


The beginning
The
case began when police officers Jeff Coffey and Doug Grady tried to
stop Howard for a traffic violation. Howard led them on a short vehicle
chase before crashing into another car and then a pole along Monticello
Court.

He tried to make a run for it, but the officers caught up with him. Police say Howard resisted arrest and the officers used force, including knee strikes, to detain him.

Howard
was taken to Integris Southwest Medical Center, where an exam revealed
fractured ribs, a fractured arm and other injuries, according to a
report from the state medical examiner.

He
was alert and cooperative with police Internal Affairs officers
investigating the use of force. On June 23, however, he fell into a coma
and had to be revived three times. Howard died the following morning.

The
two officers were placed on restricted duty after Howard’s death but
returned to their regular duties after Oklahoma County District Attorney
David Prater declined to file criminal charges.

That prompted Slane to suggest that the officers should remain on restricted duty until all investigations are complete.

Citty, however, said the D.A.’s decision allowed him to return the officers back to their normal duties.

“[Howard] made a decision to run, and he made a decision to fight with the
officers. This person was not brutalized,” he said. “If he (Officer
Coffey) intentionally broke the suspect’s ribs, it would be a different
story.”

A final disciplinary decision has not been made because of a formal complaint filed by the family.

“I’ll tell you this: It doesn’t rise to the level of termination,” Citty said.

The
FBI is conducting an independent civil rights investigation while also
reviewing the police department’s criminal probe, according to police
Capt. Dexter Nelson.

The
department’s use-of-force panel determined the action taken against
Howard was justified but the way officers applied it was inappropriate,
Nelson said.

A separate administrative probe into possible policy violations is ongoing.

No notification

Credit: Shannon Cornman

Part
of the dispute in this case involves notification of family members
regarding Howard’s arrest and death. Police officials contend the family
knew Howard was in custody and had been hospitalized.

Yet, Howard’s sister, Kim Howard, claims the family never knew he was taken to a hospital.

Citty
publicly acknowledged the department slipped up by failing to
immediately notify the family when Howard died. Family members did not
learn of his death until four days later.

“We
couldn’t believe it,” Kim Howard said. “We were in shock. We kept
calling the [Oklahoma County] jail, and they said he wasn’t there. We
were led to believe another county had him. We never knew he was in the
hospital.”

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