Video obtained by The Daily Beast shows a corrections officer strangling an inmate to death for more than a minute inside an Oklahoma jail.
A state medical examiner ruled that Darius Robinson was killed by “manual compression of the neck” and ruled his death inside the Caddo County jail to be a homicide. The county’s district attorney, Jason Hicks, has yet to bring charges against officer Michael Allen Smith for the April 4 incident, according to attorney Spencer Bryan, who represents Robinson’s family.
Hicks has refused to answer any questions about the case since The Daily Beast first reported on Robinson’s death last month. The DA’s office said Monday it would not discuss grand jury deliberations.
Robinson, a father of seven, was arrested on April 1 on a 2008 warrant for failing to pay child support. Three days later he suffered what a family attorney has called a “manic episode” inside his jail cell. A video released by the jail to the Robinson family’s attorneys shows him waving around a blanket, tearing up pieces of paper, and writhing on the floor.
The video also shows Smith—a civilian corrections officer not trained by state law enforcement—entering Robinson’s cell with fellow jailer Vicki Lyn Richardson. They begin sweeping up pieces of paper with their feet while Robinson slowly moves around the cell before settling on a bench.
While seated, Robinson leans toward Smith, who is standing in front of him. Smith responds by wrapping his forearm under Robinson’s neck while Richardson pepper sprays the inmate and the two men fall to the floor.
Smith then gets on his knees and grips Robinson’s neck with both hands in what is known as a guillotine chokehold. Robinson bucks to break free of the chokehold before he collapses. Richardson pulls Robinson’s hands behind his back and handcuffs him. A third jailer then enters and puts his foot on Robinson’s back.
All this time, Smith has been choking Robinson for more than a minute. Just before 9:46 p.m., he lets go but it was too late for Robinson.
An autopsy found his windpipe had been crushed, the hyoid bone supporting his tongue had been fractured, and the surrounding muscles had been hemorrhaging blood.
Richardson then puts Robinson on his back and rubs his sternum to check if he was conscious. He doesn’t move. Meanwhile, Smith retrieves his hat from the floor and puts it back on.
Richardson performs two chest compressions, checks Robinson’s pulse again, and sends Smith out of the cell. (He returns a moment later with what appears to be a first aid kit.) Smith turns Robinson onto his side and pats his back as he convulses. Richardson puts a towel under Robinson’s head to soak up the foam pouring out of mouth as he suffocates.
By the time paramedics LaRoyce Fanning and Ryan Warren arrive, Robinson has no pulse. Fanning and Warren make five attempts to insert a breathing tube into Robinson’s crushed trachea but do not succeed.
Smith did not tell them he used a chokehold, according to Department of Health documents released earlier this month.
Finally, the paramedics inserted a tube to expand Robinson’s airway but all the life had already been choked out of him.
Undersheriff Spencer Davis allegedly told Ancio Robinson that his brother had “charged” the jailers. Davis told The Daily Beast on Monday that Robinson’s death was “not what anyone wanted” and that Smith and Richardson are on paid administrative leave pending a grand jury’s decision on the matter and a separate state probe.
The Robinson family’s attorneys Bryan and Steven Terrell said they won’t wait for the results of that investigation before suing.
“The jailers choked Darius to death, but he was killed by the justice system in Caddo County,” Bryan said.