JACKSON "You all are not at a press conference today. You are at a crime scene," attorney Dennis Sweet IV told reporters gathered next to an early 2000s Impala in the Washington Addition on Thursday.
Sweet is representing the family of George Robinson, who died at age 62 after a Jan. 13 encounter with members of the Jackson Police Department's K-9 unit.
"Jackson police officers approached the car, pulled him out of the car and beat him—brutally beat him," Sweet told reporters on the edge of a Jones Avenue lawn, gesturing toward the Impala. "And that beating resulted in his death. To add insult to injury, they gave him a citation for disobeying a police officer. That is not acceptable."
In a press conference three days after the altercation with Robinson, Jackson Police Chief James Davis said that the encounter happened when officers were sweeping the Washington Addition looking for suspects in the Sunday-morning murder of Pastor Anthony Longino as he opened his church for services. The chief confirmed that it was news to him that day after social-media posts surfaced discussing the beating and Robinson's death Tuesday—the same day he and the mayor held a press conference vowing to answer violence with more police surveillance of neighborhoods such as the Washington Addition.
'Justice Is What We Want'
Witnesses said that, during the altercation, police slammed Robinson to the ground and may have hit him in the head with a flashlight. On Wednesday, Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart ruled the death a homicide. The autopsy showed blunt-force-trauma to the head.
Sweet's firm hired private investigator Tyrone Lewis to examine the events that night, he said. Their preliminary investigation, he claimed, led them to "believe Mr. Robinson died as a result of police misconduct" and "of the use of excessive force by Jackson police officers."
The attorney characterized Robinson's death as "murder," saying he hopes to see the police officers involved "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"And we want to see that an investigation is opened up by other government agencies," he added several minutes later. "MBI, federal government—any government agency should look into this as a murder." MBI is the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.
George Robinson's mother, Vernice Robinson, and his sister, Bettersten Wade, stood behind Sweet. Wade, with her arms around her mother, called for "justice" for her brother.
"I feel that the officers that was involved in this, they should be just like any other citizen: They should be in jail, because they brutalized my brother," Wade said. "And my mom, she's hurting. She's in pain. And how anybody can justify that? Justice is what we want. And we want justice. We want them to protect us and serve us just like they do anybody else. We want justice."
Her brother, Wade added, "just had suffered a stroke on the 25th, on Christmas," then died just weeks later. "He was still recovering."
After the police encounter, Robinson complained that his head was hurting and went to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he later died. So far, it is unclear how he got there.
City Still Hasn't Revealed Names of Officers Involved in Homicides
In September, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba promised to sign an executive order mandating the release of the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours. The names of the officers involved in the encounter with Robinson have not been released, despite multiple requests by the Jackson Free Press, and it is unclear whether such a policy would apply to a case where a man died after an alleged beating by police, rather than a shooting.
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba has shielded names of officers involved in shootings since he took office in July 2017.
Sweet told the Jackson Free Press that they were not prepared to publicly say who they thought the officers were. "At this point, we're still investigating," he said. "The facts have not fully been established to the point where we're ready to realize that detail right now."
Moments later, Othor Cain—who is the editor of the Mississippi Link, was a communications aide for Mike Espy's U.S. Senate bid last year and did public relations for former Sheriff Tyrone Lewis—asked Sweet about the discrepancy between "officer-involved deaths" and "officer-involved shootings."
"We ask that the city release the names," Sweet said.
Though the City has yet to release names, Lumumba said in a statement Wednesday that the officers were placed on administrative leave after the coroner's report.
"This follows an ongoing investigation initiated by the City of Jackson in response to allegations made by community members present during Mr. Robinson's arrest," Lumumba said. "The results of the investigation concerning Mr. Robinson's death will be presented before a Hinds County grand jury. In the full spirit of transparency, the administration will continue to be communicative with the public throughout this process and we ask the citizens of Jackson to hold the family of Mr. George Robinson in their prayers."
The statement said that Mayor Lumumba is in Washington, D.C., all week and unavailable for interviews about Robinson's death.
Follow Jackson Free Press reporter Ashton Pittman on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Taylor Langele (@taylor_langele) and Donna Ladd (@donnerkay) contributed to this story. Email related story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.