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Lawsuit in death of man following Jackson police encounter may be headed to trial

The family of George Robinson plans to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Jackson and three former police officers after rejecting a nearly $18,000 settlement offer. 

Attorney Dennis Sweet III made the intentions of Bettersten Wade, Robinson’s sister, and Vernice Robinson, Robinson’s mother, clear in a Thursday letter sent the day after the City Council approved a $17,786 payment to settle the family’s 2019 lawsuit. 

“This is more than anyone should have to endure. Much less have the City of Jackson tout the purported term of settlement as some sort of victory,” Sweet wrote in the letter. “Needless to say, no individual or party obtained a victory in this matter.”

The financial terms of the settlement and plaintiffs’ identities were not supposed to be disclosed publicly and the council did not approve the settlement in executive session, Sweet said. According to Mississippi’s open meeting law, any public body can enter executive session for a number of reasons, including for negotiations relating to litigation. 

Sweet was not immediately available to comment Monday. Last week, he told WLBT he would take it to trial. 

Council President Aaron Banks, who was also not immediately available for comment, said the settlement was freely negotiated among the parties and signed by Wade and Vernice Robinson, who had their attorneys with them, according to a Friday statement to the Clarion Ledger. 

Banks disputed Sweet’s claims that the city violated any terms of the settlement, such as a confidentiality agreement, saying the city didn’t agree to one and that settlements are public records, according to the statement. 

“The City intends to honor the agreement it reached and expects the Wade family to do so, also,” Banks said in the statement.

However, some city council members said after the meeting that they were not aware of a confidentiality agreement. 

City Attorney Drew Martin declined to comment Monday. 

All the parties met for mediation April 12. Sweet said that during the session, a representative from the city said it is in “financial straits and did not possess substantial funds in which to resolve Ms. Wade’s claims against it.” The lawsuit complaint asked for a jury trial and damages to be determined by a jury. 

Banks’s statement did not address the attorney’s claim about the city’s finances.  

Wade agreed during mediation to settle with ambulance provider American Medical Response and to allow the city to join that settlement and end litigation, according to Sweet’s letter. 

“Had AMR not agreed to a substantial settlement amount, Ms. Wade would not have settled with the City of Jackson,” he wrote in the letter.

The company settled for a different amount that was not disclosed, according to Sweet’s letter.

As of Monday, electronic court filings for the lawsuit do not show that the judge has signed off on a settlement.  

In January 2019, 62-year-old Robinson was pulled from a car and beaten by officers, leaving him with severe injuries. At the time, he was recovering from a stroke. Robinson died days later.

In 2022, former detective Anthony Fox was convicted culpable-negligence manslaughter for Robinson’s death, while charges against officers Desmond Barney and Lincoln Lampley were dismissed a year earlier. 

Fox was incarcerated until January when the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his conviction and issued an acquittal, freeing him. Fox has returned to work for the Canton Police Department. 

This isn’t Wade’s only loss and fraught experience with the city, Sweet said. 

Last year, her son Dexter died after being hit by a car driven by an off-duty Jackson police officer. He was buried unidentified in the Hinds County pauper’s field, despite having identification on him. His family did not know he was there until months later. 

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