On April 12, 2012, the police were called to the Bay View Houses in Brooklyn, New York. There was a report of a man removing decorative paving stones from the project. When the police arrived, they observed Mr. Robinson unearthing decorative paving stones. Mr. Robinson started to run to the building where his mother lived just a hundred yards away. Two police officers chased him on foot while a second set of officers in a police car raced in their vehicle to catch him. Despite ordering him to stop, he continued running. As he turned up the walkway, the car sped alongside and veered into his path. As a result, Mr. Robinson collided with the vehicle with sufficient force to dent the side of the car. Eyewitnesses report that the suspect flew up in the air and came down. He was taken away from the scene by ambulance and succumbed to his injuries on April 18, 2012.
This episode has raised questions about the decision of the police to use a car to outrun a suspect fleeing on foot in a narrow pedestrian walkway. Mr. Robinson’s relatives are asking why such an aggressive maneuver had been taken in pursuit of a person suspected of such a minor crime. A spokesman for the New York Police Department said that the officers had brought their car to a stop in order to block Mr. Robinson’s path to the building he was attempting to enter. However, two eyewitnesses claim that the police car was still moving and turned directly into Mr. Robinson and struck him. The NYPD’s Patrol Guide instructs officers to drive in a “manner to avoid injury to person”. A spokesman for the NYPD did not know whether there was a departmental policy instructing officers on the use of police cars to pursue suspects on foot. The New York Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau has opened up an inquiry.
An expert on police pursuits said that there is nothing improper about using a police car to chase down someone who is on foot as long as the vehicle is not used recklessly or as a weapon. He further stated that if the police officer indeed turned the vehicle into the suspect that would certainly be considered force which was disproportionate to the offense.
The family is contemplating a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of New York and New York Police Department. The family’s attorneys stated at a news conference that even if Mr. Robinson was stealing the stones, the penalty for stealing paving stones is not death.
The source for this blog post was a New York Times article published on April 26, 2010, titled “After Man’s Death, Scrutiny for a Police Chase”.