ATLANTA – A Georgia prosecutor is suing the U.S. Department of Justice over its refusal to provide information about how officers shot 59 bullets into a schizophrenic college student.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Friday that federal authorities have blocked his prosecutors from interviewing the officers who killed Jamarion Robinson, 26.
Howard said the federal agency has also stymied his investigation of the 2016 killing by refusing to turn over any documents, despite numerous requests during the past two years under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
"We've never done anything like this," he said of the lawsuit. "Our hope was that the federal authorities would cooperate and provide this office and this family with all the information about this incident. I cannot understand why they have not done it."
Robinson's mother, Monteria Robinson, accompanied Howard when he announced the lawsuit.
"My son deserves the truth," she said.
Atlanta criminal defense lawyer Page Pate, who isn't involved in the case but has handled numerous others involving the federal government, said the standoff between local and federal law enforcers "is extraordinarily unusual."
"They stonewall plaintiffs all the time, but it is unusual for them to stonewall a district attorney who is investigating a possible crime. ... They generally cooperate when it comes to investigating serious crimes," Pate said.
Robinson died in a hail of gunfire after a fugitive task force armed with weapons that included submachine guns broke down the door in the Atlanta suburb of East Point, Georgia, in August 2016, and fired more than 90 rounds "into or inside" the apartment, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Justice has "steadfastly blocked" Howard's office from investigating and that federal officials failed to return many calls from his office.
"It has now been 875 days since the officers killed Mr. Robinson, and the DOJ has yet to provide any of the documents or evidence requested and has failed to provide any investigative reports relating to Mr. Robinson's death," the lawsuit states.
Witnesses and videos have indicated that officers gave numerous verbal commands for Robinson to put down a weapon, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement the day after the shooting. The GBI investigates many shootings by police across the state, as it did Robinson's death.
A handgun found at the scene was "believed to be associated with Robinson," the GBI said at the time.
The lawsuit also alleges that while officers claimed Mr. Robinson fired at them three times with a gun found later in his apartment, "when the firearm was recovered, it was damaged and inoperable."
East Point police have said Robinson was suspected of shooting at Atlanta officers earlier that summer, and members of the task force had gone to the apartment to arrest him.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. Its Office of Public Affairs said in an email that due to the partial government shutdown, messages "may not be returned until funding is restored."
Robinson, who studied biology, had played football at Clark Atlanta University and had been transferring to Tuskegee University in Alabama shortly before he was killed. He'd recently been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, the prosecutor's lawsuit states. Except for a traffic violation, he had no criminal convictions, according to the lawsuit.