Robbie Tolan shooting incident

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The Robbie Tolan shooting incident took place in Bellaire, Texas, on December 31, 2008, when ten-year Bellaire police veteran Jeffrey Cotton shot unarmed Robbie Tolan, son of major league baseball player Bobby Tolan, in his parents' driveway. Tolan sustained serious injuries in the shooting and charges were pressed against Cotton. On May 11, 2010, a jury reached a verdict of not guilty and Cotton was acquitted. Minority leaders and critics around the country cite the case as an example of racial profiling and institutional racism. A federal civil lawsuit was also filed by the Tolan family. The suit was later settled for $110,000.


Robert Tolan (born July 15, 1985) is the son of Major League Baseball player Bobby Tolan of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. He himself played professional baseball for the Washington Nationals organization. Since the shooting incident, he has not played in professional baseball, he last played for the Bay Area Toros.[1][2] Robbie was shot while Sgt. Cotton was carrying out an investigation suspecting Tolan to be the driver of a stolen vehicle. However, Tolan was the registered owner of the vehicle.[3][4]

Shooting incident[edit]

Around 2:00 a.m. December 31, 2008, Robbie Tolan and his cousin were confronted in their driveway in the predominantly white city of Bellaire, Texas, by police officers who suspected that the young men were driving a stolen vehicle. According to relatives, the two young men were returning from a late night run to Jack in the Box. Tolan's cousin, Anthony Cooper, reported that the police officers emerged from the darkness pointing a flashlight and gun at them. The officer reportedly commanded them to stop before announcing his status as a police officer. After the officer ordered them to get on the ground, Tolan's parents, Marian and Robert Tolan, came outside to attend to the unidentified noise. At this point, Officer Cotton arrived on the scene as backup to the original officer. Robbie Tolan and other family members report that the altercation between Robbie Tolan and Officer Cotton ensued while Robbie Tolan was laying on the porch facing away from his mother and Officer Cotton. After Cotton pushed Tolan's mother up against the garage door, according to the Police statement, Robbie got up from the ground and turned around toward the policeman. Tolan and his mother state that Robbie did not stand, but pushed up from laying on the ground to all fours while turning around. Cotton turned and fired a shot into Robbie Tolan's chest, sending the bullet through his lung and lodging it into his liver, where it settled and threatened his life. Officer Cotton defended himself stating that he thought Tolan was reaching for a weapon and reacted quickly in what he thought was self-defense. Evidence of how the bullet entered through his chest and traveled through his body to lodge in his liver suggest that Tolan was on all fours or he was bent over when he was shot. Afterward Cotton searched Tolan, who was on the ground, and found no weapon on his person.[4][5] The police department called the shooting tragic and put Officer Cotton on administrative leave, while rejecting that any allegation of racial profiling would be entertained by the police department.

Criminal trial and acquittal[edit]

The Harris County district attorney's office pressed charges against Officer Jeffery Cotton for aggravated assault by a public servant in the matter of the shooting of Robbie Tolan, claiming that he neglected the basic safety procedures before shooting Tolan.[6] The case involved discussion of racial profiling and racial bias on the part of Cotton; Cotton is white and Tolan is black. The jury featured seven white women, three white men and two black women.[7] Cotton was freed on $20,000 dollar bond while the case was pending. On May 11, 2010, a jury reached a verdict of not guilty and Cotton was acquitted. Minority leaders and critics around the country continue to cite the case as an example of racial profiling and institutional racism. Moreover, the jury declined to convict Officer Cotton on a variety of lesser included offenses[8] ranging from Assault to Deadly Conduct to Reckless Endangerment. After the acquittal of Officer Cotton, African American leaders and activists protested outside the police department for what they perceived to be a classic case of racial bias and injustice.[9]

Civil trial[edit]

Pursuant to the allegations of racial bias, profiling, and discrimination, a civil suit was filed against Jeffery Cotton and the City of Bellaire. The federal civil case was initially dismissed by U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon of the District Court for the Southern District of Texas based on qualified immunity, then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, where a three-judge panel upheld the dismissal from the District Court based on qualified immunity.[10] The case was appealed to the full Fifth Circuit Court en banc[11] who also upheld the dismissal based on qualified immunity. After a final appeal[12][13] to the SCOTUS, the case was returned[14] to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for further review. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals revised its original decision slightly, vacating a small portion of the District Court's decision, and remanded the case[15] back to the District Court for further review. The District Court set a trial date for September 2015. A few days before the trial was scheduled to begin, the federal judge removed the City of Bellaire as a defendant in the lawsuit,[16] which prompted the Tolan family to file a motion for the judge to recuse herself. According to Robbie's mother, on Monday, September 14, 2015, the judge dismissed all of the plaintiff's expert witnesses, but none of the defense's expert witnesses. Robbie Tolan had been under a great deal of emotional distress during the seven-year court proceeding and told his family he did not want to continue the process. While Tolan's mother wanted to continue to fight in this case, the family decided to request a settlement with the City in lieu of a trial.[17] According to local news reports, a settlement was reached with the City of Bellaire for $110,000.[18]


  1. ^ Texas Police Officer shoots Bobby Tolan's son
  2. ^ "Robbie Tolan Minor & Independent Leagues Statistics & History -". Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  3. ^ The Son of Famed Baseball Player Shot by Cop in Own Driveway, January 8, 2009
  4. ^ a b "Black in Bellaire," Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Episode 142, Story 1, HBO, February 17, 2009.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ "Bellaire officer panicked in Tolan shooting, prosecutors say". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  7. ^ "Bellaire officer panicked in Tolan shooting, prosecutors say". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  8. ^ "Texas Statutes - FindLaw". Findlaw. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  9. ^ "Community activists plan protest after jury returns not guilty verdict in trial of Bellaire cop who shot unarmed baseball player". ABC13 Houston. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  10. ^ 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Panel Decision, 25 Apr 2013
  11. ^ 5th Circuit Court of Appeals En Banc Decision, 1 Aug 2013
  12. ^ Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court, 29 Oct 2013
  13. ^ Respondent's Brief in Opposition to the Supreme Court, 19 Dec 2013
  14. ^ Supreme Court Decision to remand to 5th Circuit Court, 5 May 2014
  15. ^ 5th Circuit Court Decision to remand to District Court, 17 Jun 2014
  16. ^ Cindy George (11 September 2015). "Judge makes decision in Tolan federal civil rights case". Hearst Newspapers, LLC. (Houston Chronicle). Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  17. ^ Judge, Phoebe. "Episode Fifty: This is Criminal (9.9.2016)". This is Criminal. Retrieved 9 September 2016. @33:09 Marian Tolan: "We were scheduled to go to trial on September the 15th, and on the 11th at a pre-trial hearing, the judge dismissed ... our claim against the City. And then on Sunday we filed a motion to have her recuse herself, which made her more angry ... she dismissed our expert witnesses."
  18. ^ "Robbie Tolan case settled for $110,000". KHOU. KHOU. 16 September 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2015.