An Oklahoma City family wants to know what happened to their loved one who died in police custody and why they didn't learn about it until four days after his death.
Robin Leander Howard, 54, died June 23, four days after officers used force to arrest him. Police reported the death to the public Monday.
The Oklahoma City police chief said a nine-day delay in reporting the man's death, while not typical, was not the result of a police cover-up.
“There's nothing you could hide; there's nothing you can change within a nine-day period,” Police Chief Bill Citty said.
Kimberly Turner, Howard's sister, said the family had been trying to locate Howard for several days — before and after he died. They were not told that he was in the hospital after police arrested him.
“A detective told us four days after he died that he had passed,” Turner said.
Family members called various agencies over several days trying to locate Howard, Turner said.
“We thought he was in jail,” she said. “We kept calling; they kept telling us he was in another county.”
Turner said once the family learned about his death, police refused to turn over an incident report, citing an ongoing investigation.
About the arrest
Howard led police on a short car chase June 19 that ended in the 1400 block of Monticello Court. Turner said the last time a family member saw him alive was earlier that day.
His vehicle had hit another car and a pole before it stopped. Then Howard fled on foot.
Four officers were present when force was used against Howard, but only two officers took part in restraining him when he resisted arrest, Capt. Dexter Nelson said Monday. The use of force included the officers' hands and feet, but Nelson declined to elaborate. He did not think a Taser was used. Howard was unarmed, police said.
The department is investigating Howard's death as a homicide, Citty said.
The officers involved were four-year veteran Jeff Coffey and six-year veteran Doug Grady.
Police did not name the two officers who witnessed the incident.
The officers were not placed on leave, and they remain on duty. Citty said a review of the incident is not complete.
“Nobody's been cleared yet,” he said. “They can't be cleared until the DA (district attorney) examines all the evidence and makes a decision.”
Police wanted to wait for a determination on the cause and manner of death from the medical examiner before reporting the death, Citty said. That has taken longer than expected, he said.
“We had to take it from internal affairs and move it to homicide,” Citty said.
“That decision to move it to homicide was being made. We didn't know what the investigation was going to be classified as by the medical examiner's office.”
Early indications are that his death was a result of the physical arrest, Citty said.
“We decided to go ahead and start working it as a homicide,” he said.
Mayor Mick Cornett declined to comment on the incident until he can review a medical examiner's report, said Steve Hill, the mayor's chief of staff.
History of convictions
Court records show Howard had a history of convictions in several Oklahoma counties.
In 2008, he pleaded guilty to obstructing a police officer, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and possession of a controlled substance out of Logan County, records show.
He also pleaded guilty to offenses like possession of cocaine.
While in the hospital, Howard was under arrest for police traffic complaints and a complaint of eluding officers, Nelson said.
At the time of the incident, Howard was wanted on a Garvin County warrant for trafficking in illegal drugs, Nelson said.
Howard's family has hired attorney David Slane to look into the incident.
He said the family wants to see medical records that reveal more about the extent of Howard's injuries.
“At that point, we'll decided whether or not we'll call for an outside investigation to occur,” he said.
Howard's family members characterized him as nonviolent.
“We are very concerned and very confused,” Turner said. “We just want the truth.”