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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Nola Cops Held to Task for Fatal Beating

(CN) - Officers who beat a man and then misled doctors as he succumbed to massive internal bleeding deserve prison, the 5th Circuit ruled, calling their actions "beyond the pale."

Matthew Dean Moore and Melvin Williams, former New Orleans police officers, were convicted of causing the death of Raymond Robair and sentenced to 20 and 21 years in prison, respectively.

The pair had encountered Robair as he was walking down Dumaine Street in July 2005.

Without instigation, Moore, a recent graduate of the police academy under Williams' supervision, got out of the patrol car, threw Robair to the ground, and handcuffed him.

Williams also got out of the patrol car and, while Moore held Robair down, kicked Robair in the torso, and struck him on his legs and torso with his police baton.

The officers took Robair to the emergency room but told the hospital staff that they found Robair lying on the ground under a bridge and that he had a history of drug abuse. There was no visible outward sign of trauma, so the nurses treated Robair for a drug overdose.

Robair suffered a heart attack during treatment, and when the doctors drew fluid from his abdomen, they found he had internal bleeding. They rushed him to the operating room, but his spleen had ruptured and it was too late to save him.

At the officers' trial, expert witnesses testified that Robair would likely have survived if hospital staff had been told Robair suffered blunt force trauma and treated him differently.

On appeal, Williams and Moore claimed that there was not enough evidence to show the beating caused Robair's death. They said he might have been injured when Moore handcuffed him and Robair fell to the ground, and that he was susceptible to spleen injuries because he had a cirrhotic liver.

In addition, the hospital x-ray showed only one rib fracture, but an autopsy found four, a discrepancy the officers blamed on the hospital's medical treatment.

Finding the evidence sufficient, however, the 5th Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentences.

"While the jury certainly could have reached a different conclusion, these arguments ignore the evidence in the record that supports the jury's verdict," Judge Eugene Davis wrote for a three-judge panel.

"The jury was free to choose among reasonable constructions of the evidence. The fact that both medical evidence and eyewitness testimony are conflicting does not preclude a finding of guilt by a jury who has the task of deciding which evidence to credit," Davis wrote.

Both sentences also appropriately reflected the guidelines for voluntary manslaughter, the New Orleans-based court added.

"The District Court in this case appropriately considered the defendant's behavior in the events leading up to Robair's death to be such a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care that he must have been aware of a serious risk of death or serious bodily injury," Davis wrote.

In its decision, the trial court had said: "[Williams] brought [Robair] to the hospital and then he told the doctors that, 'We found him under a bridge and we think he swallowed some cocaine.' That's, I think, beyond the pale."

Moore also challenged his sentence for aiding and abetting the submission of a false incident report, arguing he was a "raw trainee dominated by his supervising officer Williams," according to the judgment.

In this respect, the 5th Circuit deferred to the trial judge.

"We leave to the district court's discretion whether and how to react to mitigating circumstances at sentencing," Davis said.

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