“Isn’t there any respect for the dead?” That’s the head-scratching question John Torrence now grapples with after his nephew was struck and killed by a NYPD patrol car only for family members to later receive notice demanding payment for vehicle repairs.
Tamon Robinson, 27, was struck and later died of blunt head injuries last April while trying to escape officers who claim to have observed him attempting to steal decorative cobblestones from around the Bayview Houses in Brooklyn.
“We’re still grieving and this is like a slap in the face,” Laverne Dobbinson said of the disrespect she feels has been shown her son ever since that dreadful morning took place. “They want my son to pay for the vehicle that killed him. They killed him… let him rest in peace. It’s crazy.”
And yet, all the lunacy hardly ended there. On the morning Robinson was to be buried, police kicked in the door and stormed the family’s home in a raid executed at the wrong address. Family members also painfully recall that as a brain dead Robinson lay comatose and under armed guard in a Brooklyn hospital, cops refused to unshackle him from his bedpost and only allowed Dobbinson to visit with her son for around 20 minutes.
Several eyewitnesses have even stepped forward to allege that Robinson was actually deliberately run over by Officer Volkan Uretener, with one adding “they hit him. He flew up and he came down. They backed the car up, and they told him to get up. People were yelling out their windows screaming at the cops, ‘We saw what you did.’”
“In my 40 years of practicing law in this city I have never seen anything as heartless as this,” said attorney Sanford Rubenstein, since retained by the family to represent them in a still a yet unfolding $20 million suit against the city. “The $710 bill is a disgrace.”
So much so, it’s lit a fire under Dobbinson to assure justice is rendered in the name of her son. From day one, she’s called for the arrest of the officers involved, staging several rallies and demonstrations across the neighborhood and establishing a Facebook memorial page in her son’s honor.
At the time of his death, Robinson worked at a Connecticut muffin shop in Fort Greene, but according to his mother, also tried to make extra money hawking items, including the paving stones, to scrap dealers.
“They should make sure it’s never again returned to patrol,” Dobbinson said of the actual squad car that killed her son. “Just like those officers shouldn’t be on the street, either.”
In the letter dated September 27, which the British Daily Mail characterized as “a brutal, blood-money demand,” the city pinpointed the $710 bill as restitution for “property damage to a vehicle owned by the New York Police Department.” It further went on to strong-arm the family with the threat of a lawsuit if the claim was not paid within 10 days.
Meanwhile, in his intent to file suit notice served on the city, Rubenstein warned the NYPD not to make any repairs to the vehicle, as any such modifications to the vehicle would be a violation of a court order to preserve it as evidence in any pending investigation. Photos taken of the squad car show a large indentation on the front, driver’s side of the vehicle.
Joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton at a recent truth-seeking demonstration, lately Rubenstein has also hinted at the possibility of a police cover up. “The head injuries were inconsistent with Tamon running into a car,” he said.
A spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said this week the incident remains under investigation. The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau is also probing mounting allegations that Robinson was deliberately mowed down.
As might be expected, authorities have already begun the damage control mission of walking back their clearly suspect decision to even attempt to bill the Robinson family.
“We were not aware of the circumstances,” said Christina Gonzales, an attorney for Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, the firm retained by the city to carry out the collections process. “This type of receivable is not something we pursue when the alleged debtor is deceased.”
Added Kate Ahlers, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department which first approved the action, “we recognize that this involves a tragic case. We regret that Mr. Robinson’s family received a collection notice.”
Rubenstein, however, still takes exception. “They have to realize this letter will be received by his mother, who is still grieving his wrongful death. How dare the City of New York direct their lawyers to demand money and threaten collection … under circumstances in which the actions of the officer operating the police car that night are subject of a criminal investigation.”
The incident only highlights one of the several black-eyes the NYPD has suffered in recent times over some of its reported policies and practices, among them spying on citizens far outside the department’s jurisdiction, establishing offices as far away as Israel, labeling people “professional agitators” for filming some of their suspect activities, engaging in widespread surveillance and even throwing an officer in a psychiatric ward for reporting corruption.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.