Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said the department “dropped the ball” in notifying the family of Robin Leander Howard, who died in June after a physical confrontation with two patrol officers.
Howard's family members claim the department didn't notify them about his death until four days after the fact.
The state medical examiner released an autopsy report Monday, listing the cause of death as acute pneumonia caused by blunt force trauma to the chest.
Kimberly Turner, the 54-year-old man's sister, questioned Citty during Tuesday's Oklahoma City Council meeting, blasting the department for its handling of her brother's death and the aftermath.
“They've not communicated with us … the officers that are involved are still working, and it has been ruled a homicide,” Turner said. “We don't understand why. We want to know why.”
Citty said the department is investigating all aspects of Howard's case, trying to see what went wrong.
“The police department really did drop the ball because we had an officer who was given the responsibility of making notification,” the police chief said. “He did make a report that he was unable to make that notification, or find the next of kin, and then didn't notify any supervisors that would follow up on it.”
The lapse wasn't discovered until Howard died and the case was forwarded to the department's homicide division to investigate.
Citty said homicide detectives quickly discovered the error and notified Howard's family.
“We take that very seriously … and we dropped the ball on that and take full responsibility for that,” he said.
Turner also claimed that police didn't tell her family that Howard was even in the hospital, despite the fact that an Oklahoma City patrol cruiser took him to Integris Southwest Medical Center.
“At no point were we notified that he was in the hospital,” Turner said. “We didn't even know he was in there until Detective Benavides contacted us June the 28th and said that he died.”
Howard's sister said police told her they didn't know where her brother was when she went to pick up her mother's car from the city's impound yard.
She said the officers she spoke with indicated that Howard had a warrant in another part of the state and may have been moved because of that.
“They kept making me believe that another county picked him up,” Turner said.
Citty said the entire case — from the moment police initiated the stop on Howard to the point at which the family was notified — “will be looked at very closely” in the near future.
“There were some things that could have been done better,” he said.
Background of case
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, about 150 yards from the small home he shared with his mother.
What happened after police caught up with Howard is 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.
Citty said two officers who witnessed the altercation have not been placed on administrative leave or restricted duty.
The chief said the criminal investigation into Howard's death has been finished “for three or four weeks” and that all findings will soon be turned over to prosecutors.
“All of our reports, all of the information from the witnesses, officers … the statements from Mr. Howard himself … will go to the district attorney's office,” Citty said.
“Then he will review it to make a determination as to whether or not any criminal charges are warranted in this case.”