CAN’T BREATHE

Jailers Crushed Inmate’s Windpipe and Didn’t Tell Paramedics

Darius Robinson was arrested for not paying child support and killed by guards who broke a bone in his throat and held him down as he foamed from the mouth.

Jailers in Oklahoma crushed an inmate’s throat so hard that paramedics couldn’t insert a life-saving tube after five attempts, according to medical records obtained by The Daily Beast.

A state medical examiner found the bone supporting Darius Robinson’s tongue was broken and the surrounding muscles were hemorrhaging from “manual compression of the neck,” as a result of the chokehold used on him inside the Caddo County Jail on April 4. Robinson, a 41-year-old father of seven, died of asphyxiation in what the medical examiner ruled was a homicide.

Robinson’s final minutes alive were so torturous that the medical examiner found a blood vessel had exploded in his left eye.

The neck injury was so severe that Caddo County paramedics LaRoyce Fanning and Ryan Warren could not insert a tube less than a half-inch wide down Robinson’s throat to help him breathe. Fanning and Warren tried five times to use the endotracheal tube with no success.

It was only then that they realized Robinson’s airway had been crushed, because the jailers did not tell them about the chokehold, according to the paramedics’ report.

The silence “suggests consciousness of wrongdoing,” Robinson family attorney Spencer Bryan told The Daily Beast.

“If you believed you were justified in using the chokehold, you would have told the paramedics about it,” he said. “The fact that you wouldn’t disclose what you did to a first responder… it’s beyond conscionable.”

Jailers Bryan David Porter, Michael Allen Smith, and Vicki Lyn Richardson told paramedics that Robinson was suffering from “DTs,” or delirium tremens, the symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal. (A toxicology report found no drugs or alcohol in his system.) These symptoms were supposedly so severe that they required the jailers to pepper spray and choke Robinson into submission after he allegedly charged them.

Robinson then began to convulse and foam at the mouth, according to the autopsy report. Despite clear evidence Robinson was undergoing a medical emergency, jailers placed him in handcuffs and took turns “holding [Robinson] down” as they waited for EMS to arrive, according to paramedics.

After a sternal rub to evaluate his consciousness, the jailers laid Robinson face down on a towel, according to medical reports.

“A sternal rub is something you do if you get your bell rung,” Bryan said. “If you’re having an airway problem, it’s not going to do anything.”

Even if the paramedics had known about the chokehold, they reported Robinson had no pulse when they arrived.

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“He’s dead,” Bryan said. “He’s got nothing.”

Fanning and Warren didn’t give up though, switching to a balloon-like device that opens up crushed airways.

“It may not have made a difference,” if the jailers had told Fanning and Warren about the chokehold, “but [the officers] don’t know that while they’re standing there,” Bryan said.

The jailers have said nothing publicly. A “security consultant” representing one of the officers asked The Daily Beast last week to cease contacting them.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is looking into Robinson’s death, and Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks told Bryan he will not take the case to a grand jury until the OSBI probe is complete.

Hicks also told Bryan he will not release video of the incident, even to Robinson’s family. None of the jailers have been charged, at least one has hired a lawyer, and it is not know whether they remain employed at the jail because the Caddo County Sheriff’s Office did not return calls for comment. Hicks’s office did not respond to questions either.

The family plans to sue in the coming weeks, Bryan said.

Robinson was arrested on April 1 on a warrant for failing to pay child support. After being booked into the jail, Caddo County Undersheriff Spencer Davis claimed Robinson began acting erratically.

Not only had Robinson been threatening a cellmate, prompting his removal to a cell of his own, Davis said, he was eating ants off the floor and pages from a Bible. When jailers entered the cell in an attempt to calm Robinson, he charged them, Davis said.

Then came the pepper spray and the fatal chokehold.

The entire violent episode was caught on tape, but Hicks refuses to release the video.

“The only way we’ll know more than we do now is with the tape,” Bryan said.

It was likely an investigator with the medical examiner’s office that discovered the use of the chokehold, Bryan said, and the medical reports provided to The Daily Beast by Robinson’s family clearly show that that crucial information was not relayed to the two men trying to save his life.

The violent manner of Robinson’s death is only known because of the autopsy report: Caddo County has refused to release any information about the case, citing its interpretation of the state’s open records laws. But it was the tenacity of Robinson’s brother, Ancio, that forced open a case that may have been shielded from the public eye, a death that grabbed the attention of Black Lawyers for Justice and, eventually, Bryan.

The day after his brother died, Ancio took a red eye from his home in California to tiny Anadarko, Oklahoma, where the jail is located. Once inside the facility, Ancio found himself face to face with Undersheriff Davis.

“He leaned back in his chair, pushed his cowboy hat back on his head and just told me ‘Sometimes these things happen here,’” Ancio told The Daily Beast last week.

For now, all of the information about Robinson’s death has come from parties that had nothing to do with it. The medical examiner broke open the case when its investigators discovered the chokehold; Ancio obtained more information when, as is his right as a family member, he secured the medical reports that give a timeline of the futile life-saving efforts undertaken by paramedics that day.

From the authorities, Darius Robinson’s death is enveloped by the same silence the jailers chose when they watched him die as a result of their own actions.

“In my head, I picture (the officers) standing around as the paramedics are struggling to get an airway into him, knowing that they choked him out,” Bryan said. “Again, it’s beyond conscionable.”