The FBI will determine whether the civil rights of a man who died in Oklahoma City police custody were violated, the police chief confirmed Thursday.
Robin Leander Howard, 54, died in June after a physical confrontation with patrol officers Jeff Coffey and Doug Grady.
Flanked by two of Howard's sisters and his mother outside the police department, attorney David Slane said the family had a productive two-hour meeting Thursday with Chief Bill Citty.
Citty told the family the FBI became involved in the case early on.
“The chief was forthright in answering questions,” Slane said. “This is definitely a step in the right direction, and we felt like they were being open and candid in answering questions to the family.”
The encounter stood in marked contrast to the department's early involvement with family members. Police waited nine days to report the man's death and his family was not told Howard was in the hospital, sister Kimberly Turner said. Family members have accused police of a cover-up.
“We're just glad to know there is a third party involved,” Turner said.
The officers are on restricted duty as the department conducts an internal investigation into the use of force in the case, Citty said. The police chief said he will take into consideration the findings of an internal committee to help determine whether or not of force was justified. A decision on any disciplinary action for the officers rests with him.
The state medical examiner listed Howard's manner of death as homicide and the cause of death as acute pneumonia caused by blunt force trauma to the chest. The autopsy report lists numerous injuries, including several broken ribs and a badly fractured left arm.
The police department concluded its own criminal investigation into the incident. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater announced Oct. 17 he will not file charges against the two police officers.
Slane said Thursday the family learned one of the officers involved is the grandson of the police chief's administrative assistant. The potential conflict of interest worries Howard's family, Slane said.
Citty confirmed Coffey is his assistant's grandson. He said he has fired officers over excessive use of force before, and that interpersonal relationships have not played into those decisions.
“I'll make a decision that's in the best interest of the department,” he said.
FBI spokesman Rick Rains said he the bureau doesn't confirm or deny its ongoing investigations.
It's common practice for police departments to refer cases of this nature to the FBI for a potential investigation, he said.