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Black man killed during arrest in Louisiana ruled homicide

Posted at 5:32 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-14 20:32:51-04

The death of a 22-year-old African-American man shortly after a struggle with police last week has been ruled a homicide, authorities in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana said Monday.

Keeven Robinson, of Metairie, died last Thursday, following a police chase and an altercation with narcotics detectives from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, located outside of New Orleans, according to authorities.

An initial autopsy found significant traumatic injuries to the soft tissue of Robinson's neck, said Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, who cautioned that the results from the autopsy, which was conducted Saturday, are preliminary and more tests need to be conducted.

Cvitanovich said the findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia, which will likely be cause of death at the end of the process.

The four detectives involved in the incident are white, said Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto, who declined to release their names at this point.

"I understand ... this investigation will be under a microscope, understand it fully," Lopinto told reporters.

Gaylor Spiller, president of the West Jefferson Parish NAACP branch, said Robinson's family is also seeking a second independent autopsy.

"I like the fact that Sheriff Lopinto stepped up to plate, and he's doing his part," Spiller said, according CNN affiliate WDSU. "He knows that the NAACP will be on his trail."

Robinson was being investigated by narcotics detectives early Thursday, Lt. Jason Rivarde, spokesman for Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, told CNN.

Undercover detectives assigned to the case tracked Robinson down at a local gas station and tried to arrest him, according to Rivarde. But Robinson jumped back in his vehicle and led police on a chase after spotting them, Rivarde said.

The suspect rammed several police cars before crashing his vehicle, according to Rivarde.

Robinson took off on foot, jumping several fences before deputies caught him in a backyard of a nearby residential neighborhood, Rivarde said.

Rivarde says a struggle ensued with deputies who eventually handcuffed Robinson. Once handcuffed, detectives noticed Robinson was not breathing, Rivarde said. Detectives administered life saving techniques before Robinson was taken to a local hospital where he died, Rivarde said.

The agency is not equipped with body cameras or dash cameras, according to Rivarde.

"They were in a struggle," Lopinto said. "They used force." He added that the officers admitted to using force during the arrest.

But the sheriff said he's "not coming to the conclusion that this was a chokehold."

Lopinto said he contacted the Louisiana State Police on Saturday after he was told of the initial findings, and asked them to assist in the investigation.

The sheriff said he has "every faith" in his officers to do their job well.

"I know they have the expertise because this is what they do every day, but I also understand that an independent set of eyes is something that's appropriate in a case like this," he said.

The four detectives involved in the arrest were read their rights and have given statements, Lopinto said.

They are being reassigned to administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation, the sheriff's said.

The FBI's Civil Rights Task force is also looking into the matter after he contacted them Saturday, the sheriff said.

The actions of the coroner's office were largely praised Monday by Robinson's family.

Hester Hilliard, an attorney for Robinson's family, thanked the coroner's office "for their professionalism and their transparency."

"Today is just as hard as Thursday for this family. They're grieving, and today they had to find out that Keeven lost his life at the hands of another," she said, according DSU. "And that's very, very hard for them."

"Now, it's time for us to move on to making funeral arrangements for a 22-year-old that should not have died," she said.

In an interview with CNN, Hilliard said she is hoping "to see the same justice for Keeven as with any other individual who has died at the hands of someone other than the police."

"We are hoping for a thorough investigation, an arrest and prosecution of those that caused his death unjustifiably," she said.