Keeven Robinson, the 22-year-old man who died while being arrested by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies last week, was asphyxiated, and his death is being investigated as a homicide, officials announced Monday.

The announcement came two days after the autopsy was performed on Robinson, and the findings are preliminary, Jefferson Parish Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich said.

The autopsy showed Robinson had injuries to the neck consistent with compressive asphyxia. That occurs when a person’s neck is squeezed from the outside. 

Sheriff Joe Lopinto said four narcotics deputies who were questioned in connection with Robinson's death have been reassigned to desk duty. That is not a step the agency always takes in use-of-force cases. 

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Lopinto did not immediately identify the deputies. They are all white, and Robinson was African-American. 

According to the Sheriff’s Office, narcotics agents conducting surveillance on Robinson as part of a drug-dealing investigation followed him to a gas station at Labarre Place and Jefferson Highway during the late morning Thursday.

Robinson tried to drive away when he noticed the agents – with badges and in plainclothes – approaching on foot, the Sheriff’s Office has said.

But he bailed out of his car about a block away after crashing into two Sheriff’s Office vehicles. Deputies chased Robinson on foot as he leapt over a number of fences and caught him in the backyard of a home.

They fought with Robinson – who was in possession of what deputies suspected was heroin – before they managed to handcuff him, Lopinto said. Lopinto said Robinson did not have a gun on him during the struggle, though he had one in his car. 

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At that point, Robinson stopped breathing, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Paramedics took Robinson to Ochsner Medical Center a few blocks away, but he died there.

Initially, Lopinto said investigators were trying to determine whether Robinson’s history of asthma had contributed to his death.

But Robinson’s family and their supporters immediately expressed skepticism about that possibility. They said they feared Robinson had been either beaten to death or strangled by deputies, who don’t carry body-worn cameras in Jefferson Parish.

Cvitanovich met with Robinson’s family on Monday to share the findings. Robinson's mother and other relatives were visibly upset leaving. An attorney representing the family, Hester Hilliard, made a brief statement thanking the coroner's office for its professionalism and transparency. 

Jefferson Parish NAACP President Gaylor Spiller said she was relieved deputies issued a ruling on Robinson's death within a matter of days and that "there was no cover-up." 

Louisiana State Police will assist the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office on the investigation into Robinson's homicide. The FBI's Civil Rights Task Force will also participate. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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