A Louisiana sheriff’s department and excessive force expert say a deputy was justified when he pushed a Black woman into a mobile home and punched her in the face. The local law enforcement agency alleges she was interfering with an arrest, while community members claim the officer used excessive force in his engagement.
The incident occurred after MaryLee Breon Robinson refused to back away during the May 2 arrest of her brother, according to authorities. Authorities reportedly told Robinson she could record, but to stay in her yard. Robinson allegedly began shouting to her brother, “agitating” him, according to officials.
Deputies from the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office arrested Keith Anthony Robinson Jr. on the 1300 block of Paul Frederick Street in Luling, fulfilling a felony probation warrant.
A press release from the sheriff’s office described the young man as “a convicted felon with a violent history” and further read, “Deputy Henry Sill deployed his department-issued taser to attempt to subdue Robinson to take him into custody.
“The taser was ineffective and Robinson continued to flee. An assisting officer was able to detain Robinson and take him into custody,” according to the release.
“While searching Robinson after his arrest, a female subject approached deputies while recording Robinson and attempting to speak to him. The female was later identified as his sister, MaryLee Breon Robinson, a 30-year-old female from Paul Fredrick Street in Luling.”
While detaining the 26-year-old, his sister MaryLee Breon Robinson reportedly yelled at the officers for tasing him after he initially ran from the cops. Telling them, “You’re not going to handle him like that.”
“As Keith Robinson, Jr. was being placed into the rear of the police unit, MaryLee Robinson approached deputies from the rear of the unit, in the middle of the street. She was again recording and shouting at Keith Robinson, Jr. and deputies.” Robinson reportedly again was told she could record but to back away from the investigation.
Bodycam footage released on social media by the department on Tuesday, May 3, shows the arrest of Keith Anthony and Deputy Henry Sill approaching Robinson before she runs away from him. As the officer chased down the 30-year-old female, he pushed her into a white mobile home. After she fell, an alternate camera captured the officer rearing back and punching the woman in the face multiple times.
In his footage, Sill is saying, “She started swinging, so I struck her a few times because she’s swinging at me.” He also said on camera, further explaining his action, “She came around my unit and tried to interfere.”
The officer’s bodycam catches her remarks too. Robinson is heard saying the officer attacked her for no reason, adding, “You don’t beat on a woman like that.”
The woman was charged with interfering with a law enforcement investigation, criminal damage to property, battery of a police officer, disturbing the peace, and resisting an officer with force or violence.
Chief deputy Rodney Madere defended his deputy’s action saying, “They told her to get back. She didn’t. We allowed her to record. We told her she could continue to record. We just needed her to get away. She refused. She kept coming up to the scene interfering.”
He continued, “When he did catch her she swung and punched him in the face. Our officer then was able to push her away to create distance when she fell to the ground. Our officer came in and she swung a second time.”
The sheriff’s department also said the woman “vocalized that she would not listen to deputies’ orders.”
“Deputy Sill moved in to effect an arrest, when MaryLee Robinson swung at Deputy Sill and kicked at him,” the sheriff’s office said.
“Deputy Sill felt his taser holster crack upon MaryLee Robinson’s kick, glanced down, and realized his taser was no longer on his duty belt. MaryLee Robinson continued to actively resist arrest, at which point Deputy Sill used an empty hand distraction technique to gain control and take her into custody. This was successful.”
The sheriff’s office is conducting an administrative investigation into the altercation.
Those who witnessed the altercation said MaryLee was not close to the officers and not physically impeding the arrest. They also say the deputy demonstrated abuse.
Her mother Miranda Robinson told NOLA.com, “It’s OK for you to come and do your job, but you don’t have to be so aggressive and treat us like we’re animals.”
“We’re not animals,” added the 50-year-old. “There’s no hard or harsh feelings,” the mom said. “I just want to see him held accountable for his actions and dealt with in the proper way.”
Joshae Smith, a relative to both Keith Anthony and MaryLee Robinson, said, “It was scary because for a man to be beating a woman like that — and then in front of her kids and they crying. It’s terrible.”
Believing the woman’s civil rights were violated, the family contacted the NAACP.
A lead investigator with the NAACP expressed concern about the woman’s health after being assaulted by the officer. Jermeine Luckett, a rep for the civil rights organization, said, “the young lady may possibly have a concussion and she has not received adequate medical care.”
The sheriff’s office says Robinson was offered medical attention at the scene of the arrest but refused it.
Other leaders have spoken out after seeing footage of Robinson’s encounter with Sill. Ben Crump tweeted about the incident, asking, “Since when does aiding transparency of a police incident justify such excessive force?”
“He must be FIRED!” he demanded.
The Times-Picayune enlisted the professional opinion of Andrew Scott, a use-of-force expert and former police chief in Boca Raton, Florida, to review the footage. He said, while at face value the footage “looks terrible,” Sill was acting within his authority because Robinson was interfering with the investigation. He referred to the officer’s punches as “stun strikes,” saying they are sometimes used to subdue a subject resisting arrest.
The expert said Sill still could have de-escalated the situation by letting the woman run away.
“In my view, as an expert, what he did was not unreasonable given the totality of the circumstances,” Scott said. “But it does not look pretty. The use of force may be justifiable, but it does not look good.”