The family of Robbie Tolan, the former baseball player who was shot in Bellaire, Texas by police in 2008, addressed the media for the first time this past Monday, following the recent unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to revive the family’s lawsuit against several parties including two Bellaire police officers, Bellaire’s mayor and the Bellaire police chief.
The press conference, which was held at The Power Center, was attended by a cross section of local and national community leaders, organizations and elected officials, who along with the Tolan family, came together to demonstrate their excitement about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and express outrage over the continual shootings and killings of African American males across the country and how these incidents are a part of a greater civil rights injustice.
During the press conference, the Tolan family announced the addition of Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump to lead their legal team. Crump will work with Tolan’s Appellant Attorney Martin Siegel on the family’s next legal moves.
With their ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a civil lawsuit filed by Tolan, in which he sued the city of Bellaire and two White Bellaire police officers; Officer John Edwards and Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton in May 2009, alleging unconstitutional excessive force was used when Tolan was shot. The suit also accused Bellaire and police of racial profiling, false arrests and racial harassment.
Tolan was shot on New Year’s Eve in his driveway in 2008 by Bellaire police officer, Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, after he and Officer John Edwards mistakenly identified Tolan’s vehicle as having been stolen. Tolan’s vehicle was found to have not been stolen, nor was either man found to have been armed. More importantly, the license plate number that the officers entered into their computer was the wrong one, leading them to make the wrong call on the wrong alleged suspects; a mistake that Attorney Crump emphasized was extremely alarming.
"The fact that these police officers typed in the wrong license plate number is one thing, but the fact that the vehicle they were allegedly looking for was so different than Robbie Tolan’s vehicle raises a red flag," said Attorney Crump.
A grand jury indicted and acquitted Sgt. Cotton, after only charging him with aggravated assault. This is what led Tolan and his family to file the civil lawsuit, which eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court because of the decisions by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The greater significance of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling is that it has been over 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision.
The family is now hoping they will find justice through the courts and are looking forward to having a trial, because the lawsuit has never officially gone to trial.
The case involving Tolan has been one of the nation’s most high-profile, police brutality cases in recent memory and was one of the features in Emmy-nominated filmmaker, Keith Beauchamp’s documentary called The Injustice Files: Hood of Suspicion, which appeared on the Investigation Discovery (ID) Network. Beauchamp was one of the supporters who flew in from New York to support Tolan at the press conference.
Also on hand to support the Tolan family were Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Windsor Village UMC; U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; U.S. Congressman Al Green; Houston City Councilmember Dwight Boykins; Houston City Councilmember Larry Green; Thomas Burrell, President, Black Farmers/Agriculturalists Association; Dr. Reginald Lillie, President of Houston Branch of NAACP and its members; Travis McGee, Sunnyside/South Park Civic Association; Dr. Carolyn Evans Shabazz; Loretta Brock, Awakening 911; Fort Bend Constable Ruben Davis; Activist Brother Deric Muhammad; and other Community Leaders.
As always, the Houston Forward Times will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest once the trial begins.