By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Robinson began have difficulty breathing. The assistant manager was seen on top of him, riding him like a "bucking bronco," according to another witness. There was blood on the carpeting. Other officers arrived; an ambulance was called. Dillard's employee James Turk testified that "foam and stuff" was coming out of Robinson's mouth. At one point, five officers were holding down Robinson. Placed on life support at Ben Taub General Hospital, he was taken off two days later and pronounced dead. A coroner ruled he died of a heart attack. But an expert brought in by the Robinson side said Robinson had died of "positional asphyxiation," brought on by the hog-tying, his fear and the officers' weight.
On May 10, 2001, after deliberating four and a half days, a jury found Dillard's and the sheriff's deputies were negligent in Robinson's death. The Robinson family received a court award of $800,000 plus interest, which lawyers said should have increased it to about $1.5 million. The jury found that the deputies were acting not as sheriff's deputies at the time of the incident but as Dillard's employees.
As reported in the Houston Chronicleat the time, Dillard's local attorney, Brock Akers, said the award to the family was modest and that Dillard's was not disappointed in the result.
The 14th Court of Appeals also took Dillard's and the officers to task, in a majority opinion written by Justice Don Wittig. He was critical of the officers for failing to come to the immediate aid of Robinson once it was clear he was having difficulty breathing. In a rare action, the justices found that the Dillard's appeal was frivolous -- meaning the company should have known it had nothing to present that would change the court's mind -- and fined it and the other defendants a total of $10,000.
Until the U.S. Supreme Court decides to take on the issue of the dual identity of off-duty law enforcement officers working as security guards in stores, nothing definitive will be decided for the country as a whole, attorney Doyle said.
In a case at the Dillard's in Memphis, Tennessee, a security guard shot and killed Alton Anderson, a known gang member and suspected shoplifter, by firing into the car Anderson and his friends jumped into. Police said the shooting was justified because Anderson's group was trying to run over one of the guards. Anderson died on July 9, 1995, as a result of the shooting. All officers were exonerated.
El Paso was another Dillard's location where a security guard followed a suspected shoplifter out to the parking lot and shot him.
Raul Moreno, a known shoplifter, picked up a box of sunglasses at Dillard's in Sunland Park Mall on July 17, 2000, and was spotted by Tyler Grossman, a Dillard's security guard and off-duty El Paso police officer.
Following procedure, Grossman watched Moreno take the package out of the store, he said in his deposition. He followed Moreno, losing sight of him for a while and then finding him in the parking lot ready to drive away. The plainclothes Grossman pulled his nine-millimeter automatic pistol, reached through the passenger window and ended up shooting Moreno five times, killing him. Moreno, who was in his late twenties, left behind a wife and two children.
Doyle and Houston attorney Roger Rider had worked together on the Robinson case and were asked to enter this case as well; their investigation found some inconsistencies. Officer Grossman argued he was in fear for his life when he fired, that he'd become caught in the window and he thought Moreno was reaching for his gun in the right-hand corner of the car. Doyle said that to be consistent with the accounting of events that Grossman gave, the entry wounds should have been front to back; instead they were side and back to front. Doyle found a witness who said that after he heard the shots, he saw the officer trailing behind the moving car, not stuck inside it.
But all of that never got argued before a jury.
The suit, initiated by another attorney, was originally filed in federal court, alleging that Moreno's civil rights had been violated. They later refiled in state court and sued the police officer.
Dillard's denied every allegation in the lawsuit and argued that refiling the case in state court was, in essence, litigating the same claim twice, a form of double jeopardy. It also argued that Grossman was acting fully within his rights as a police officer and that when he shot Moreno he was acting as a police officer, not as a Dillard's employee. The judge in that case agreed and granted summary judgment for Dillard's in November 2003.
Moreno had been arrested more than once for shoplifting. One time, an unarmed Kmart sales associate followed him out to the parking lot and asked him to come back inside the store, which he did, Doyle said.
So why did Moreno have to be shot to stop him, Doyle asked.
The failure to instill a system of background checks and accountability was a large part of why Dillard's settled a wrongful death case filed against it by the family of Eli Montesinos Delgado, a Mexican on vacation with his family in San Antonio.