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Attorney David Slane with members
of Robin Howard's family
Credit: Mark Hancock

As family members of the deceased Robin Howard emerged and began walking toward other members of the family who had been awaiting their return, there was no need to explain what had just happened — their faces and tears said it all: No charges were being brought against the men who allegedly killed him.

Howard, 54, died while in police custody on June 23, from pneumonia caused by blunt force trauma to the chest. The manner of death was ruled to be a homicide by the state Medical Examiner.

According to the Oklahoma City Police Department, on June 19, officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop on Howard, who was driving his mother’s car. Howard attempted to get away, got into a minor crash, then attempted to flee on foot before being subdued by officers, according to a police statement.

According to court records, Howard had previous drug convictions and allegedly had tried to elude police before. At the time of his June 19 arrest, he was wanted for failure to pay court costs in another county on a drug trafficking case.

Police report that after Howard’s arrest, he was taken to the hospital, where he was interviewed by OKCPD Internal Affairs representatives.

On June 23, he began to have complications and died. The family was not notified about his death or whereabouts until four days later.

Feeling cheated
Police Chief Bill Citty later apologized to the family and said the late notification was a mistake of the department.

Family members said they’ve been stonewalled in their attempts to get more information about Howard’s death.

The case, investigated by the OKCPD homicide unit, was turned over to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to determine whether to file charges.

On Oct. 17, Prater met with family members and told them there was not enough evidence to file charges against the officers in the case.

Slane said the evidence presented to Prater shows that when officers tried to subdue Howard after apprehending him, they used “knee strikes” to the back, resulting in injuries to his ribs, causing the punctured lung that eventually killed him.

After meeting with Prater, the family spoke to the media at Slane’s office.

Kimberly Turner, Howard’s sister, said she felt Prater had been honest, but that her family still feels cheated by the justice system.

“We feel like he was beat to death.

That hasn’t changed. More force was used on him than should have been,” Turner said. “We feel like the police were his judge and jury and executioners at that point.”

Added Deidra Hill, another of Howard’s sisters, “We’ve been kicked in the face. We haven’t had time to grieve. We just realize we have to do everything in our power that we can possibly do to uncover the cover-up.”

Next steps
Slane said the family likely will petition the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to examine the case. They also are looking into a possible malpractice suit against the hospital that treated Howard and are optimistic that Rev. Jesse Jackson and the American Civil Liberties Union will become involved.

Slane thanked Prater for sitting down with the family, and noted that Prater was one of the few officials involved willing to do so. “Our beef is not with David Prater,” Slane said. “Our beef is with the Oklahoma City Police Department and the way this case has been mishandled from day one.”

John George, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said the union was pleased to see the officers’ names cleared in the case. He said that the officers used approved measures to subdue suspects who are resisting arrest. He added that, once the officers realized Howard was injured, they immediately took him to a hospital.

George said the situation was tragic, and one that could have been avoided.

“We’re sorry for the family’s loss,” he said. “However, I want people to understand that Mr. Howard was a seven-time convicted felon who ran from the police in a vehicle, then ran from them on foot and actively fought our officers trying to make a lawful arrest.

“I understand they want something to blame, but Mr. Howard has a lot of the blame. His actions led to the tragic chain of events.”

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