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Cop found not guilty in shooting of Black man in Texas

By Jesse Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: May 21, 2010 - 4:13:15 PM

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BELLAIRE, Texas ( - An acquittal in the controversial shooting of Robert “Robbie” Tolan has a family heartbroken as White Bellaire Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton walks away free in a case that drew national attention to the affluent suburb.

“We are obviously disappointed the jury did not convict Jeffrey Cotton. Cotton's criminal trial was only the first step in seeing that some measure of justice is done in Bellaire,” said the Tolan family in a post-verdict statement released on May 11.

Last year, the Tolan family filed a federal lawsuit against Sgt. Cotton and Bellaire officials, alleging that its police department has a history of racial profiling, racial harassment and making false arrests. The family is now focused on going to higher court.

“The fight now moves to federal court. There, the defendants and charges are different, and the standard is not the same. We remain hopeful that our family may still find justice,” their statement reads.

Sgt. Cotton had been charged with aggravated assault in the Dec. 31, 2008 incident. He was following Mr. Tolan's car home on suspicion of car theft. According to testimony, Mr. Tolan's license plate did not match the plates of the car that was reported stolen but was ordered to the ground by the officer. Shots were fired in the family's driveway when Mr. Tolan rose up from the ground after he saw Sgt. Cotton mishandling his mother.

In his defense, Sgt. Cotton testified he saw Mr. Tolan reaching for what could have been a gun. Mr. Tolan was shot in the right side of his chest and found to be unarmed.

“I just want to get back to work,” said Sgt. Cotton to the press as he left the Harris County courtroom.

On May 12, outraged community activists led several dozen protesters in a rally on the steps of the Bellaire Police Station to call for Sgt. Cotton's badge.

“Jeffrey Cotton should have been convicted. He should have been thrown in jail and under the jail by now,” said Deric Muhammad during the rally.

Heated debates between Black protestors and White Bellaire residents, who support Sgt. Cotton, also took place in the streets during the rally.

“We believe a man with such a mind should not be back on the streets. He does not deserve to wear a police officer's uniform,” said Mr. Muhammad.

“Racism in Bellaire is nothing new. Those cops will pull you over for any reason especially if you look like a so-called thug. I have experienced it myself,” 25-year-old Benson Wilson told The Final Call.

“This system of White supremacy still reigns in 2010 and there is a history of no respect for Black life. But we have a right to self-defense and maximum retaliation,” said Kofi Taharka, national chairman of the National Black United Front.

“The jury's verdict demonstrates that there was no excessive force here. Hopefully, people will have an understanding that opinions have to be formed based on the facts,” said city attorney William Helfand in a press conference following the verdict.

Mr. Tolan is the son of former Major League Baseball player Bobby Tolan and played baseball for Bellaire High School. The bullet from Sgt. Cotton's gun remains in his liver and shattered his then dreams of becoming a professional baseball player like his father.

“The city has not changed its policy of racial profiling. Indeed, the city—from Mayor Cindy Seigel on down—has dug in its heels in defense of the unconstitutional practices which very nearly led to Robbie's death at the hands of Jeffrey Cotton,” said the Tolan family in their released statement.