DOVER IN COURT: In 2013, Rita Sklar discusses the lawsuit. From left in background: attorney Pat James, Ronald, Eva and Matthew Robinson, and ACLU staff attorney Holly Dickson.
A jury is hearing arguments in federal court this morning in the case of a Dover mother and son who were tased and injured by local law enforcement while walking their dog in 2011.
and Matthew Robinson's
suit against the City of Dover Marshal's Office
— along with several other entities named as co-defendants — alleges their rights to be free from unlawful search, seizure, undue force and prosecution were violated. They describe a sequence of events so startling that the Arkansas ACLU took up the case.
On the evening of Sept. 13, 2011, Dover Deputy Marshall Stephen Payton
stopped the Robinsons on the street outside their home in Dover (pop. 1,500), where the family has lived for 20 years. Payton said he stopped because Matthew Robinson waved at the officer's patrol car in a manner Payton interpreted to be suspicious. Payton became convinced Matthew, who was 16 years old at the time, had drugs on his person (none were found), and the situation escalated.
After placing the mother, the son and their schnauzer in the back of his vehicle, Payton called for backup and was joined by an officer from the Pope County Sheriff's Department
and an Arkansas State Police
corporal. Both of those entities are also named in the complaint. Here's what the Robinsons say happened next, as summarized by David Koon when the suit was filed in 2013:
Matthew was ordered out of the car, but his size-16 feet became entangled under the front seat. When he reached toward Sgt. Kristopher Stevens for help extricating himself from the car, Stevens tased him. Eva, thinking the taser was a gun and her son was about to be shot, threw herself over her son, and was tased as well. After that, the lawsuit says, Matthew was "thrown to the ground, beaten, choked and hit in the groin," and Eva was slammed repeatedly against the trunklid of the car while handcuffed. Matthew was tased at least 5 more times during the incident, though Pat James, the attorney for the Robinsons, noted that when they tried to get the records from the internal data recorders built into the taser used that night, they were told by the police that those records had been lost. The lawsuit says that Eva Robinson was so terrified and afraid for their lives while she and her son were being beaten that she urinated on herself.
Eva Robinson was later charged with criminal mischief, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanors, with the criminal mischief charge being levied, ACLU-Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar said, because the antenna of the patrol car was broken as Eva Robinson's body was being repeatedly slammed into it. No evidence of criminal activity was ever found on Matthew or Eva Robinson, though officers allegedly tried to claim that the end of an air hose found in Matthew's pocket, part of the equipment from family's nearby auto shop, was a "pipe."
When Matthew's father, Ronald, emerged from the home to see what was happening, he was ordered to the ground by the cops and told that his son had been caught with drugs and drug paraphernalia. His wife and son were then hauled off to jail.
Here's the Robinsons' full complaint.
A judge convicted Eva Robinson of the three criminal charges against her, but a jury found her not guilty on all counts when the case was later appealed to circuit court. Matthew Robinson — a minor at the time of the incident — was adjudicated on a charge of "refusal to submit" in juvenile court. The federal suit in court today seeks unspecified damages.
The suit, filed by the Arkansas ACLU and Little Rock attorney Pat James, is before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.
We'll post updates here if we get them.