JPSO, other agencies investigating why suspect died in police custody

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Jefferson Parish's coroner announced Monday that preliminary findings of an autopsy on 22-year-old Keeven Robinson show that his death was a result of a homicide.

"I'm not coming to the conclusion that this was a chokehold," said Sheriff Joe Lopinto.

The autopsy was performed Saturday.

"Our initial autopsy findings, and I'm going to be brief, reveal significant traumatic injuries to the neck, okay? The soft tissue of the neck. These findings are consistent with compressional asphyxia, and we're confident that at the end of our process that that is going to be the cause of death. Regarding manner of death, at this point, manner of death is homicide," said Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich.

Robinson was in custody when he died on May 10 after deputies caught him near Jefferson Highway and Labarre Place in someone's backyard.

The sheriff said plainclothes undercover narcotics detectives spotted Robinson at a nearby Shell gas station and tried to arrest him, but he took off.

"There's no doubt they used force. Whether that force was excessive, I mean, that's what we're trying to come to a conclusion of," said Lopinto.

He said Louisiana State Police, the FBI and his office will continue to investigate. The narcotics detectives are on administrative duty pending the outcome.

But the sheriff is not ready to spend undercover operations.

"Somebody's family actually lost their life, and I'm very cognizant of that today," Lopinto said. "That doesn't mean our officers did anything wrong, or it may mean that they did something wrong. We have to have that ability to get to that conclusion and put that to a district attorney. Let the district attorney make that decision."

"I'm very happy to find out that it wasn't a cover-up," said Gaylor Spiller with the NAACP.

Last week Lopinto suggested that Robinson's asthma may have contributed to his death, and FOX 8 News asked the sheriff about that statement.

"They were in a struggle, they used force, they admitted to using force, but I think the investigation will have to complete. But I knew out on the scene that the gentleman had asthma, I also knew it was a bad air day. All knew all those things had existed, and as I said on Thursday, an autopsy had to be determined, to determine what the cause of death was," Lopinto said.

"Right now I am satisfied. I'm just so glad because I knew within my heart it wasn't, he just didn't die because the ozone was high," said Spiller.

The coroner was not prepared to go into details about the type or manner of compression that would lead to a death.

"I think it varies from case to case, and at this point I don't think I'm comfortable, I know I'm not comfortable commenting, and I don't think that my pathologists at this point are either on giving a length of time or a pound of compression it would take. We're not prepared to discuss that at this point," said Cvitanovich.

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