by Max Brantley
A $225,000 settlement was reached with Sergeant Kristopher Stevens and Pope County and a federal jury has returned a verdict in favor of the other defendant Deputy Marshall Steven Payton of the Dover Police Department in the Robinsons’ lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, against law enforcement officers Payton and Stevens for unlawful detention and excessive force used against the long time Dover residents Eva Robinson and her then sixteen year old son Matthew.
The Robinsons were out walking their dog on the sidewalk outside their home in Dover, Arkansas, population approximately 1,500, on the evening of September 13, 2011 when they were stopped by Deputy Payton. The Robinsons suffered physical harm at the hands of the police and were arrested, although they had broken no laws. Sergeant Stevens and Pope County entered a settlement agreement with the Robinsons including payment of $225,000 before the jury rendered its verdict as to Deputy Payton.
“What happened to our family can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. And that needs to change,” said Ronald Robinson, Eva’s husband and Matthew’s father. “We knew it would be difficult to hold police accountable for what they did to our family, and while we are disappointed we were not able to find full justice here today, we are pleased that at least one of the officers and departments recognized wrongdoing and we will continue to seek true accountability and professionalism in policing.”
At the time of the incident, the Robinsons turned to the Dover Marshall, Mayor, and City Council and the Pope County Sheriff and nothing was done. Despite the police admitting they didn’t suspect them of having committed any crime, officers detained, beat, and arrested Eva and Matthew. Since 2011, the mother and son have endured juvenile and criminal trials and had nowhere neutral to turn to but the court to try to seek some relief. Evidence was not kept and officers admitted to multiple policy violations as well as inconsistent reporting and testimony on the tasing of Matthew Robinson and other facts of the case. There has been no discipline,
no policy change, no training or anything that would prevent this from happening again.
The jury was not instructed that the Robinsons had the right to use self-defense in response to excessive force directed at them by officers, though the law does protect that right to use self-defense and officers are trained on it at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
“Arkansans need a statewide standards office that the public can turn to for help,” said ACLU of Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson. “The police are supposed to protect and serve the public, but when they don’t, they need to be held accountable.”
The state of Arkansas does not have a professional standards office that ensures uniform standards or will take and address citizens’ complaints about police. Since day one, the Robinsons and ACLU of Arkansas have called for a state system for receiving complaints and acting on them.
“The brutality that Eva and Matthew endured shows us that something is wrong with the way Arkansas police are trained,” added Dickson. “We need to ensure that all police officers in this state are trained to act in a manner that respects people and their constitutional rights.”
The encounter changed everything about how the Robinsons feel about safety in their own home and community. As the federal jury chose not to hold Deputy Payton accountable, the Robinson family vows to continue working for a system that better resources and professionalizes police.
The Robinsons had no one to complain to when the police agencies responsible denied any wrongdoing. The officers who beat them are still on the streets today. A report about police wrongdoing is filed with the state standards agency is only when an officer has been fired; people are not allowed to file complaints to the state standards agency.