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Tolan Family: Supreme Court Decision Gives Us Hope

Baseball player who was shot by Bellaire cop hires Trayvon Martin attorney.

The ballroom at the “Power Center” in southwest Houston was packed with supporters of Robbie Tolan and his case against the Bellaire police officer who shot him on his parents’ front porch five and a half years ago.

The Tolans announced the hiring of Benjamin Crump, the civil rights lawyer who represented Trayvon Martin’s family in the case against George Zimmerman last year.

The move comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated Tolan’s lawsuit against Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton. Tolan’s mother, Marian, said the court’s decision gives them hope.

The Tolan family, from left: Bobbie Tolan, Marian Tolan and Robbie Tolan, hired civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump for their case against the Bellaire police officer who shot Robbie Tolan in 2008.
The Tolan family, from left: Bobbie Tolan, Marian Tolan and Robbie Tolan, hired civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump for their case against the Bellaire police officer who shot Robbie Tolan in 2008.

“And when I say ‘us,’ I’m not talking about the Tolan family,” she said. “I’m talking about each and every one of you. I’m talking about our nation. We need healing. You know, we can go to Iraq, Afghanistan. We can go everywhere and help everybody. We have got to take care of home. It’s time.”

Cotton was acquitted of aggravated assault in 2010 but Tolan also filed a civil lawsuit against him. An appeals court dismissed that case two years ago, but the Supreme Court decision means the lower court has to review the case and “properly credit Tolan’s evidence.”

Among Tolan’s supporters are Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, both D-Houston, who both spoke at the news conference. Green said the case should be tried in federal court.

“It’s time for the federal government by and through the attorney general of the United States of America to make a decision to have this case tried in a federal court under a civil rights violation,” he said. “It is time for the justice department to do justice by this family.”  

Crump said he wants the chance to get the case before a jury. For that to happen, the appeals court would first have to reverse its earlier decision.

Supporters cheer for Robbie Tolan during the hours-long news conference on Monday, May 12, at The Power Center in southwest Houston.
Supporters cheer for Robbie Tolan during the hours-long news conference on Monday, May 12, at The Power Center in southwest Houston.

“You want a chance to give them that day in court, to have a jury hear their perspective for it,” Crump said. “Just don’t take the police perspective for it. And remember, that is kind of what the Supreme Court said. You can’t take just the police perspective for this. You gotta listen to the family’s perspective. And thank God, Robbie is living because unlike the Trayvon Martins, unlike the Jordan Davises, Robbie is here to tell his version of what happened that night.”

Bill Helfand, the attorney for Cotton, said he isn’t worried about the Supreme Court’s order.

“The Supreme Court asked the court of appeals to address a procedural question relating to the manner in which the appellate panel reported their decision,” Helfand said, “and I’m sure that they will comply with the mandate of the Supreme Court. But neither the Supreme Court gave any indication nor should there be any reason to believe that they will ultimately change the outcome of the case.”  

Helfand said a Harris County jury has already heard the case during the aggravated assault trial against Cotton and decided that the officer was justified in using lethal force against Tolan.

Helfand said he doesn’t believe any further review would change that view.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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