Back in December of 2015, the family of Robert Stephen Jr. received the most horrifying news any family could receive during the Christmas holiday season, that he was dead after being arrested for alleged intoxication by the Harris County Police Department in Houston, Texas. A spokesperson for the Harris County Jail stated that Stephen was apprehended after a store clerk called authorities because of his aggressive behavior at a local convenient store. During the arrest, law enforcement stated that Stephen acted belligerently and therefore was placed in an isolation cell after being cleared by a medical examiner. Seven hours after allegedly being “checked on” every fifteen minutes, he was found dead in his cell. Authorities at the time claimed not to know the cause of death, however, after four months of having no answers and getting the runaround, his autopsy was finally released showing what his family and friends suspected, he had been brutally beaten, incurring injuries that were likely the cause of his death!
Based on information gain from his wife who has been diligently seeking answers from Harris County investigators, Stephen had a broken rib, lungs full of blood, bruises to his head (including on or around his temples), a busted eye, lip, a broken wrist, and countless other bruises across his body, yet and still, investigators claim that police brutality was NOT the cause of Mr. Stephen’s death.These latest findings lead to a series of unanswered questions (1) why was he brutalized, (2) why was he cleared for an isolation cell with such injuries, and (3) could these injuries have aided in his death in any way?
While I am not a medical examiner nor a physician of any sort, I don’t need a medical degree or license to practice medicine to know that when an individual incurs such injuries, they need to seek immediate medical attention, the very attention that was not afforded to Mr. Stephen that could have very well saved his life. This leads me to question whether he actually saw a medical examiner at all and if so, what did this examination consist of that would conclude that he did not need further medical attention. Additionally, the glaring question of why he was ever brutalized remains. Even if we assume that Mr. Stephen was completely out of control upon arrest, what type of behavior could justify highly skilled and trained law enforcement officers to do such damage in order to subdue him, especially since there have been no allegations of self-defense to surface at this point in the investigation. Law enforcement has a variety of tactics to apprehend their suspects safely, even when the suspect is behaving aggressively. Why weren’t such tactics used on Stephen? Lastly, even if Mr. Stephen’s death was caused by some unknown illness, alleged intoxication, or otherwise, it is safe to assume that such brutality was a factor in aiding on such death, and also HPD’s failure to hospitalize a severely injured inmate contributed as well.
Although gaining justice for the family of Robert Stephen and holding those responsible is the primary focus, there are other undeniable elements in this situation that need attention as well. While the country is preparing to select a new president, we have witnessed every presidential candidate discuss national security and terrorism but they typically do so in the context of foreign terrorists infiltrating our country and stirring up trouble abroad. What these candidates are missing is the rise in domestic terrorism right here in our country that exists every time there is a case of police brutality. When looked at in a broader context, police brutality extends beyond a simple abuse of power and authority and begins to look more like a national security issue. When those in power commit crimes that harm the innocent, (because they are afforded the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the U.S. Constitution) are protected by other officers, and typically allowed to walk free, the safety our families, communities, and our nation as a whole is at risk. There has been a War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Terror, and there needs to be War on the Blue Shield Code, that allows law enforcement to participate in gang-like activity, aid and abet each other, cover up evidence, and suffer little to no consequences. If such behavior is outlawed for ordinary citizens, it needs to be outlawed for law enforcement as well. We can no longer afford to stand by and allow justice not to be served in this case and others similar to it. Pressure needs to be placed on community leaders, judges, and all elected officials to push for a change in our police forces nationwide.