On the evening of September 13, 2011, Eva Robinson and her 16-year-old son, Matthew Robinson, were walking their dog outside their Arkansas home in Dover when a police officer drove past them.
Thinking he may have known the cop, Matthew waved at Dover Deputy Marshall Steven Payton in an iconic small-town gesture expected in a town of less than 1,500.
In response to the polite wave, Payton turned on his patrol lights and confronted Matthew, accusing him of being on drugs, finding it suspicious that he would keep one hand in is pocket while waving with the other.
Feeling “outnumbered,” Payton would then order the mother, son and schnauzer into the backseat of his patrol car to wait for more cops.
Once those cops arrived, Matthew ended up getting choked, beaten and tasered several times. And his mother ended up getting dragged on the ground and thrown against a patrol car.
Hearing his wife screaming, Ron Robinson ran out the house, but was immediately ordered to drop to his knees and place his hands over his head.
The cops then told Ron, a volunteer firefighter in that same town for more than 30 years, that his son had been caught with drugs and drug paraphernalia.
But that was a complete lie.
It turned into a hellish nightmare for the Sunday school teacher and her son, who was not even allowed to be on social media because it was considered a bad influence.
This month, Eva and Matthew received a $225,000 settlement in the hopes to put the ordeal behind them.
The ACLU of Arkansas filed the lawsuit on their behalf, which can be read here, naming the Dover Police Department, the Pope County Sheriff’s Department and the Arkansas State Police as defendants because the latter two agencies were the ones who responded to the scene once Payton placed them in the back of the car.
When the new cops arrived, they suggested the Robinsons be searched for weapons, so they opened the door and ordered them out.
However, Matthew’s shoe became stuck underneath the seat and he lost his balance, so he reached his arm out, hoping one of the cops would assist him.
But Sergeant Kristopher Stevens of the Pope County Sheriff’s Office took that as a threat and began tasering him.
Seeing her son yell out in pain, Eva thought her son was being shot, so she placed her body over his body in an attempt to protect him.
That led to cops dragging them both out of the car and pulling them apart, tasering both the mother and her son, resulting in the mother urinating on herself.
But seeing that her son was still getting beaten and tasered, she tried to crawl over to him to protect him, which resulted in the cops slamming her against the car, resulting in a broken antenna.
She was then transported to jail on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief for the broken antenna.
Seven months later, during Eva’s trial, Peyton would testify that the only reason he stopped Matthew was because he was concerned for Eva’s safety.
“The male was approximately 6 foot 3, over 200 pounds — kind of bulky,” Payton said. “Then there was a petite, slender female. I was concerned for the safety of the female.”
The judge, who did not allow dashcam evidence into the trial because it had been brightened for better visibility, found Eva guilty on all three charges, ordering her to pay more than $1,000 in fines.
But she appealed and was acquitted of all charges by a jury three months later, in a trial where the dashcam video was admitted.
That enabled them to file their lawsuit in July 2013, which claimed that Matthew suffered permanent injuries and emotional distress. It also alleged that the Robinsons Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.
The suit revealed that the Dover Police Department had a policy to detain citizens even when an officer has no clear or reasonable suspicion that the individual being detained has committed a crime.
The suit claimed those very policies are unconstitutional, and are what prompted the start of this entire incident. And the court obviously agreed.
The law enforcement personnel on scene even made attempts to cover up their misconduct; they failed to document the event, they failed to file use of force reports, they failed to give medical treatment to the taser victims, and they failed to maintain data on the taser that showed how many times it was fired.
In an attempt to avoid a civil lawsuit, the Dover Police attorney offered that the charges against the Robinson’s be dismissed in exchange of the Robinson’s keeping quiet. The Robinson’s rejected that deal.
ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar stated the following:
“What started as an unnecessary police stop–for suspicions that could have been easily diffused–turned into a train of police misconduct that could not be stopped. We entrust our police officers with great power—the power to detain, arrest, and use deadly force if necessary: we have the right to expect the utmost professionalism and good judgment from them in return.”
And ACLU of Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson said:
“The brutality that Eva and Matthew endured shows us that something is wrong with the way Arkansas police are trained. We need to ensure that all police officers in this state are trained to act in a manner that respects people and their constitutional rights.”
But what if they had not settled? What if they had taken the case to trial and let a jury decide if they deserve monetary damages?
They actually did and a jury ruled against them after a six-day trial.
But the settlement was agreed upon while the jury was in its second day of deliberations. In fact, the settlement was reached 30 minutes before the jury ruled against the family.
PINAC News reporter Joshua Brown contributed to this report.