Robinson v. Payton

Case No. 4:12-CV-577 BSM

The Plaintiffs

Eva Robinson, 47, is a dietician and a preschool Sunday School teacher. Eva and her husband Ron Robinson own an auto repair shop in Dover, and have lived in their Dover house for 20 years.  Their son, Matthew, graduated high school third in his class and is currently a volunteer firefighter. His father, Ron, has been a volunteer fire fighter for over 30 years in Dover. The Robinsons do not have cable or use social media on the internet because Eva believes these things have a bad influence on her children.

The Facts

On the evening of September 13, 2011 Eva Robinson and her 16-year-old son, Matthew, were out walking their Schnauzer on the sidewalk outside their home in Dover, Arkansas, population approximately 1,500.

Dover Deputy Marshall Steven Payton of the Dover Police Department saw the Robinsons as he was driving by with his wife, who was going along for the ride. (In Dover, the Chief of Police calls himself the Marshall, and police officers are Deputy Marshalls). Knowing most of the officers, Matthew peered over to see if he knew Payton, and waved; his other hand was in his pocket.  Neither, it turned out, knew the other.

To the Robinsons’ surprise, Payton stopped the car, got out, armed, blue lights flashing, and aggressively and loudly demanded to know what was in Matthew’s pocket, then, in the same manner ordered Matthew to empty his pocket.  Matthew complied. When Payton saw nothing, he repeatedly demanded to know “where the drugs were.”  Matthew said he had none.

Eva Robinson immediately put her arm around her son, identified him as her son and tried to diffuse the situation.  She told the Deputy she didn’t know what was going on, that she and her son were just outside their house, walking their dog, and that they knew and worked with the Marshall. She suggested they go to the house where her husband was and maybe they could clear things up.

Payton would later testify that his initial reason for stopping was that he was concerned for Eva’s safety because, he said, it looked like the petite woman was being followed by a bigger man (Eva at 5’6’ and 125 lbs. and Matthew at over 6 feet and 185 lbs.); however he never inquired about her safety and only asked about drugs.  Furthermore, when Eva identified Matthew as her son, the Deputy did not cease his investigation but continued shouting about drugs.

The Deputy detained Matthew and Eva in his police car.  While Mother, son, and dog were confined in the back of Payton’s patrol car, Payton called for “backup.” Payton would later testify that he called for backup because he was “outnumbered.”

The tension of the situation, already high, quickly escalated from there.

Sgt. Kristopher Stevens of the Pope County Sheriff’s Department and Cpl. Stewart Condley of the Arkansas State Police arrived, and Sgt. Stevens suggested they search the Robinsons. Officers ordered Matthew out of the car.  According to Matthew, he had a hard time extricating himself from the cramped back seat because his size 16 shoe got caught under the seat and he had the dog on his lap. As he was attempting to comply with the demand, Matthew says, he said he reached over to Stevens for assistance in hoisting himself out of the car.  Stevens says he thought Matthew was making an aggressive move and stunned him with a Taser.

Thinking the Taser was a handgun, and that her son was about to be shot and killed, Eva Robinson dove over her son to protect him and was shot by the Taser as well.

At this point, the police forcibly separated mother and son, with Cpl. Condley pulling Eva out of one side of the car, and Payton and Stevens pulling Matthew out of the other.

Once Matthew was dragged out of the car he was stunned two more times. Payton and Stevens then threw him to the ground and stunned him twice more; the officers then beat, choked and hit Matthew in the groin while trying to handcuff him.  It was only then that they thoroughly searched him and found a common “air chuck,” the nozzle end of an air hose, which they claim they thought was a drug pipe. Matthew identified the air chuck; he was stunned by the Taser a total of at least six more times.

Meanwhile, Cpl. Condley, who had dragged Eva from the patrol car, restrained her as she attempted to get to her son and slammed her against the back of the patrol car. Having secured Matthew, Condley and Stevens then slammed Eva against the hood of the car several more times while handcuffing her.

At no point were the Robinsons told they were under arrest or read their rights.

Having heard his wife’s screams for help, Ron Robinson ran from his nearby house to come to her assistance. He was ordered to drop to his knees with his hands over his head, which he did.  The police told him that they had caught his son with drugs and drug paraphernalia and that he was a drug user.  Ron asked to see the evidence and identified the “pipe” as an air chuck from his auto repair shop, which is right next to his house and is a prominent feature at the only busy intersection in this small town.

None of the officers assertions about drug use or paraphernalia have been corroborated, no evidence of anything drug-related has been introduced, and Matthew was never charged with a drug crime.

Eva was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest,* and criminal mischief, the latter for breaking the antenna off a police car, which she grabbed as she was being slammed into it.  Eva faced two trials before being finally acquitted of all charges by a jury.

The Robinsons sought answers and redress from the Dover Marshall’s Office, the Dover City Council, and the Pope County Sheriff’s department, and received none.

The Robinsons have filed a lawsuit in federal court asserting that their rights to be free from unlawful search, seizure, undue force and prosecution were violated.

*Note on the Law:

Under the U.S. Constitution, a person has to submit to an arrest even if innocent of a crime; however, one does not have to submit if undue force is being used against him or her or another person.


ACLU of Arkansas July 9, 2013