A confrontation with police may have left Robin Leander Howard so badly injured that his broken ribs and punctured lungs ultimately caused him to die of acute pneumonia, according to an autopsy report released Monday.
The public was not notified of the case until nine days after his death, and his family says they were not told about it until four days after the 54-year-old man died. Police dispute that claim.
The confrontation with police came after the 5-foot-8, 138-pound Howard led police on a short chase.
According to a police dispatch log, a patrol car tried to stop Howard in his mother's Lincoln Town Car at roughly 1:30 p.m. June 19. Officers said Howard led them on a chase that ended in the 1400 block of Monticello Court, only about 150 yards from the small home he shared with his mother.
What happened after police caught up with the lanky, Howard remains a mystery.
Officers Jeff Coffey and Doug Grady, who were involved in the altercation with Howard, have been on restricted duty “for some time,” said Capt. Dexter Nelson, the department's spokesman.
“Restricted duty means we're getting some work out of them, but they're not dealing with the public,” Nelson said.
“They may be working as a report taker … answering phones … something that doesn't involve direct contact with the public.”
Nelson said Howard's death has been investigated as a homicide and that the criminal investigation has been complete for some time.
“We've tried to present it to the DA's office, but he will not take an incomplete case,” he said. “We're waiting on the ME to release that final report before moving forward.”
David Slane, an attorney representing Howard's family, said he doesn't understand why the police haven't released more information about the case.
Slane said police routinely arrest people and charge them with murder “months before the ME's report comes out.”
“I'm concerned about them playing fast and loose with the findings … and I'll say it publicly,” Slane said.
“I think they want to be able to respond to what the ME says … I think they want to be able to respond to the injuries if they think they're justifiable.”
Slane also criticized police for not communicating with the man's family, saying that investigators have provided little comfort for Howard's surviving relatives.
According to the autopsy report, Howard was “alert and oriented” when he was admitted to the hospital June 19.
On the day he died, Howard “became lethargic, became comatose and coded three times during the night between June 23 … and June 24.”
Howard's autopsy report lists numerous injuries, including several broken ribs and a badly fractured left arm.
The report states that Howard had no drugs in his system, but it points out that no blood samples were taken until two days after he was admitted to the hospital.
“It is not certain whether or not he was influenced by drugs,” the report states.
The doctor performing the autopsy noted that Howard had been in a car accident before being admitted to the hospital and that he had not been wearing his seat belt.
The report doesn't indicate that the accident contributed to Howard's death.
“Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the rib fractures and the broken arm may have been the result of the Oklahoma City Police Officer(s) detaining the decedent,” the report states. “Apparently damage to the vehicle was very minor.”
The fractured left arm, cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension and complications from diabetes were listed as “participating” factors in Howard's death.
Howard's death was notable not only because it involved police but also because of how slowly information about the case became public.
The man's family members told the media that they weren't told their loved one had died until four days after the fact, a claim disputed by police.
In fact, Nelson said Howard's family knew he was in the hospital and that he was able to use the phone while he was a patient at Integris Southwest Medical Center.
Nelson said there were no family members present when Howard died, just an officer who been posted outside to watch him.
Police also waited nine days to report the death to the public, although Police Chief Bill Citty dismissed the prospect of a cover-up.
“There's nothing you could hide; there's nothing you can change within a nine-day period,” Citty said.
Slane said the police department's handling of Howard's homicide investigation gives him a “major cause for concern.”
“I've been a lawyer almost 20 years. I've seen a lot of arrests, and I've also seen police brutality,” Slane told The Oklahoman shortly after Howard's death became public.
“In this case, my eyebrows are raised.”