The cause of death for Keeven Robinson, a 22-year-old black man who died while four white police officers were arresting him just outside New Orleans, was “homicide by asphyxiation,” the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s office announced Monday.
Robinson, who police were watching as the subject of an undercover narcotics investigation, suffered “significant traumatic injuries to the neck, the soft tissue of the neck,” Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich said in a press conference Monday morning.
“This initial medical classification does not take into account whether the homicide was an intentional act, accidental act, or an act incidental to a law enforcement action,” a spokesperson for the sheriff's office said in a statement provided to NBC affiliate WDSU News.
But according to Cvitanovich, one of the officers likely squeezed, grabbed, or leaned on Robinson’s neck.
“From a policy standpoint, we don’t train someone to hit somebody with a brick. But if you’re fighting for your life and a brick’s there, you hit somebody with a brick. The reality of it is, is those determinations are going to have to be made. But I’m not coming to the conclusion that this was a chokehold,” Sheriff Joseph Lopinto told reporters Monday when asked about the department’s policy on chokeholds.
Lopinto also said that the state police, FBI, and a federal civil rights task force are all participating in the investigation into Robinson's death, which occurred on Thursday, May 10. He added that the four detectives involved were read their rights and questioned and have since been placed on desk duty.
According to The Times-Picayune, the incident began when detectives spotted Robinson, who was suspected of dealing narcotics, at a gas station. Robinson fled, wrecked his car, hopped a few fences, and led the detectives on a foot race before he was caught in the backyard of a home. During the struggle in the backyard, Robinson stopped breathing. He was taken to the hospital where he could not be revived.
“They were in a fight,” Lopinto said on Monday of the incident. “I mean, they were in a narcotics investigation. Narcotics was found. But the reality is that they were in a fight… There’s no doubt about that.”
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for further comment.