Cover-Up

Jailers Handcuffed, Pepper-Sprayed, and Choked Inmate to Death

Darius Robinson’s death inside a rural Oklahoma lockup has been ruled a homicide, but no one has been charged with killing him as the prosecutor sits on the tape.

06.27.16 1:00 AM ET

Handcuffed and covered in pepper spray, Darius Robinson was strangled to death by a jailer at a rural Oklahoma county jail, the state’s medical examiner has found.

It was only when Robinson began foaming at the mouth that the Caddo County jailers sought medical treatment, but by then it was too late. The father of seven died that day in early April on the floor, while a camera above watched. District Attorney Jason Hicks is refusing to release video of Robinson getting the life choked out of him, even to his own family, citing an ongoing investigation into the his death.

The family will soon sue, according to attorney Spencer Bryan.

An autopsy report released last week revealed that Robinson died of “asphyxiation due to manual neck compression” and ruled it a homicide. Law enforcement has refused to release reports related to the incident, citing their interpretation of the state’s open records laws, but The Daily Beast has obtained some records from private sources, including the names of the correctional officers involved in Robinson’s killing.

For months, Ancio Robinson has sought answers in his brother’s death. The release of the autopsy last week provided a few of those, but without much else coming form authorities, Ancio and his attorney will soon file a lawsuit against the Caddo County Sheriff’s Office, the agency responsible for running the jail and the employer of the three correctional officers involved in Robinson’s death.

“I just want to get this out there,” Ancio told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “I just want people to know about this case, to know how the law operates in Caddo County, and to know there’s a place called Anadarko.”

Anadarko, with a population of less than 7,000, is the Caddo County seat, and home to the jail in which Robinson died.

Robinson was arrested on April 5 on a warrant from 2008 for failure to pay child support. He was in the booking area of the jail when he began acting erratically, authorities claim, and supposedly charged jailers when they tried to intervene.

When Ancio flew from California to retrieve Robinson’s belongings the day after his death, Undersheriff Spencer Davis told what Ancio recalls as a very strange story about the incident.

Robinson had been threatening another inmate and was moved to his own cell in the booking area, Davis told Ancio. Then he began screaming, eating pages out of a Bible, and eating ants off of the floor.

“I know my brother. I raised him and my sister so I’m like a father figure to him,” Ancio said. “I know he wouldn’t eat ants off the floor. He’s a clean freak like me.”

No drugs or alcohol were found in his system, according to the autopsy report, eliminating that possibility for Robinson’s bizarre behavior. (Although the medical examiner did note a “history of unknown pill abuse” in the report.)

Davis told Ancio that he wasn’t aware of any pepper spray being used on Robinson, saying that he “wasn’t working that day,” but use of the control agent was noted in the medical examiner’s autopsy. The same report noted that Robinson was handcuffed at the time of his fatal altercation with the jailers, and that one of the officers used a chokehold on him.

The Daily Beast has identified the three correctional officers involved in Robinson’s death as Bryan David Porter, Michael Allen Smith, and Vicki Lyn Richardson. Porter and Richardson are white; Smith, like Robinson, is black.

Porter’s Facebook page includes a hype video for correctional officers that shows violent confrontations both between inmates and with jailers. It ends with a motivational speech to a group of officers, with their leader calling them “warriors.”

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Porter, Smith, and Richardson did not respond to requests for comment, but a man who would describe himself only as the head of a “private security company” asked The Daily Beast to cease contacting the jailers. The man said he was hired by his “client” shortly after Robinson’s death, and that any further questions should be directed to a private attorney in Chickasha, Oklahoma. That attorney’s office was not open on Friday.

Following his brother’s death, Ancio caught a red eye to Oklahoma and began looking for answers. The pair grew up in California, where Ancio still lives, but Robinson moved to Oklahoma to be with their father as a teenager. Robinson worked odd construction jobs while fathering seven children.

“His employment history is nothing to write about, I’ll be honest with you,” Ancio said.

The lack of steady income is why Robinson failed to make child support payments, the crime for which he was booked into the Caddo County Jail. Ancio knew his brother had been arrested, but simply figured he would soon be released and given a payment plan to pay down his debts.

Then, a cousin called.

“She was hysterical,” Ancio said. “She just kept saying, ‘He’s gone! He’s gone!’ And then it dawned on me what she meant.”

Less than 24 hours later Ancio was walking into the jail at Anadarko.

A clerk there asked him if he had come with any legal representation.

“Do I need any?” Ancio remembers saying.

Moments later he was sitting at the undersheriff’s desk.

“He leaned back in his chair, pushed his cowboy hat back on his head and just old me ‘Sometimes these things happen here,’” Ancio said. “Just like that. With monotone. It was very unsettling to me.”

No one from the Caddo County Sheriff’s Office responded to a request for comment.

Davis recounted what he knew about Robinson’s death, Ancio said, but admitted there was a “blank spot” in the video that may have shown the fatal chokehold that was used on Ancio’s brother, killing him.

Ancio is no slouch when it comes to getting answers, and he’s as resourceful as they come when backed into a corner—especially by the death of his beloved brother. So he started reaching out for help. Eventually, Black Lawyers for Justice got involved and then attorney Spencer Bryan out of Oklahoma City.

It was Bryan and the black lawyers who fought for the release of an Oklahoma Department of Health report on Robinson’s death. The department is legally bound to create such reports when men and women die in law enforcement custody. The department is also legally bound to provide as little information as possible—no names, dates, or facilities where the incidents take place.

Reached on Thursday, a department spokesman said a review of that policy has resulted in a change. Beginning on Friday, future reports like the one describing Robinson’s death will now include the dates and facilities associated with deaths in custody but still, no names.

Bryan has spoken with Hicks, the district attorney, but has no hope that video of Robinson’s death will be released any time soon. That’s because Bryan said Hicks told him the incident won’t be put in front of a grand jury until until the Oklahoma State Bureau of Inspection has completed its investigation into Robinson’s death.

When asked if Hicks would release the video only to family, the district attorney declined, Bryan told The Daily Beast. Hicks did not return a message seeking comment, and the OSBI did not reply to an inquiry regarding the status of its investigation into Robinson’s death.

***

Before Robinson there was Antonio Jimenez, who died at the jail in 2014. A federal lawsuit filed against Caddo County states that Jimenez was “defenseless and with no ability to protect himself” when he was pepper sprayed, began vomiting, and eventually died. Caddo County authorities were required to respond to a summons from the federal government by Thursday, according to court documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.

Just last week, Jeremy Francis Gerken, an inmate at the jail, filed a handwritten lawsuit seeking unidentified damages for not having access to a law library and for “unlawful and unfair distribution of medicine and medical treatment.” The matter has been forward to a magistrate judge for review, according to court documents.

“This county is violating a lot of our rights,” Gerken wrote.

In March, Leroy Thomas filed another jailhouse lawsuit listing the same complaints as Gerken. Thomas alleges that it took two months before he was able to see a doctor for sciatic nerve pain, according to court documents. Complicating matters, the electronic monitoring bracelet that was on his ankle when he was arrested remains there, and he has not heard from anyone regarding when it might be removed. His request to have access to a law library were most recently met with a threat that he would be sent to “lock up” if he continued asking.

In his letter he said he was praying to God that the court would intervene. Also in his file are 15 pages’ worth of requests both to see a doctor and to use the library, most of them apparently denied or ignored.

The lawsuit was dismissed in May.

In 2013, inmate Shane Dixon claimed eight medical requests over a three month span were ignored, that as many as 24 inmates were housed in the same area and were provided with no cleaning supplies for at least three days, and that with no laundry services, inmates wore the same clothes for up to 10 days at a time. His handwritten lawsuit was eventually dismissed by a federal judge as well.

In 2010, Elgret Burdex claimed jail officials failed to give him his hepatitis medication after being transferred from another county jail. He had a seizure, he believed, and lost a tooth. At one point, he was told by an officer at the jail that no one cared about his written grievances, because he was “not in state or federal prison.” The case was dismissed after more than two years in the court system.

The jail’s problems are not limited to how inmates are treated, either. In 2014, the former jail administrator was busted for stealing more than $5,000 from a local Native American tribe he had been overseeing finances for. He was arrested inside his own jail and charged with two felonies.

That same year, three jailers were charged for smuggling alcohol, tobacco, and methamphetamine into the facility the previous year.

Perhaps the problems at Caddo County Jail outlined in federal lawsuits and charges against officials would not surprise Ancio Robinson. He stressed in a lengthy interview with The Daily Beast that the environment of fear in the county he witnessed when seeking answers in his brother’s death led him to one sure conclusion.

“Down in Caddo County, it’s a lawless law system,” he said.