A man stopped breathing and died after he was taken into custody Thursday by narcotics agents with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.
Keeven Robinson, 22, had been the target of a drug investigation and ended up in a struggle with deputies after a chase Thursday morning, authorities said.
Sheriff Joe Lopinto said Robinson had a history of asthma, and other officials noted that it was the third day in a row that residents had been warned about unhealthy air quality in the region.
But some of Robinson's relatives said they doubted the official version of events and questioned whether he may have been the victim of police brutality.
The Sheriff’s Office said deputies conducting surveillance on Robinson followed him to a gas station at Labarre Place and Jefferson Highway about 11 a.m. Robinson apparently stepped out of his car but climbed back in and drove off when he noticed the agents — in plainclothes and wearing badges — approaching on foot, Lopinto said.
Lopinto said Robinson made it only about a block up Labarre before crashing into two Sheriff’s Office vehicles. Deputies then pursued Robinson on foot into the backyard of a nearby home.
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There was “a brief struggle” before deputies managed to handcuff Robinson, who was in possession of a white powdery substance that investigators suspected was heroin, Lopinto said. It was at that point that Robinson stopped breathing, he said.
Lopinto said deputies performed CPR and called for paramedics, who took Robinson to Ochsner Medical Center a few blocks away, but he was pronounced dead there.
Robinson’s family acknowledged that he had asthma, but his death remained unclassified Thursday, according to Lopinto.
Jefferson Parish Coroner Gerry Cvitanovich said an autopsy would be conducted Saturday. Because the death happened while Robinson was in police custody, his family will have the option of sending a physician of their choice to witness the procedure, Cvitanovich said.
A number of Robinson’s family members rejected the findings of the initial investigation done by the Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies are not equipped with body-worn cameras.
Robinson’s grandmother, Sheryl, vowed to seek help from activists with the NAACP.
A cousin, Shantrell Moran, described seeing Robinson tell deputies he was “tired” as they chased and caught up with him.
In an interview outside Ochsner, she repeatedly accused deputies of beating Robinson. Other people at the scene who wouldn’t give their names but described themselves as being close to Robinson’s family said they were concerned he may have been choked.
“My cousin is dead, and they need to pay,” Moran said. “(They) are going to pay.”
Asked about the Robinson family's concerns, Lopinto said, “There will be people that say a whole bunch of things, but we have to go off of facts, and at this time there’s no indication that occurred.”
Court records show Robinson had a pair of prior convictions. One involved marijuana and the other an illegal weapon.
Another cousin of Robinson, Glenda Moran, said he deserved better than the fate he met Thursday.
“It doesn’t matter what you have done,” she said. “Nobody deserves to lose their life on the street.”
WWL-TV's Danny Monteverde contributed to this report.