This isn’t a warm and cuddly Mother’s Day story. But, it is about a son’s caring for his mother. Because, you see, it’s a story about a son who was shot by police for defending his mom.
It happened on New Year’s Eve in 2008 in Texas – yeah, the state that is pick-pocketing California’s jobs.
At 2 a.m. Robert Tolan, 23, and his cousin, both black, parked Tolan’s SUV at his mother’s home in an affluent, predominately white neighborhood in Bellaire.
Reading the SUV’s plate, a cop patrolling the area typed the wrong license number into a computer in his car. (He apparently wasn’t hired for his typing skills.) Police records showed the car, which was the same color and make as Tolan’s SUV, had been stolen..
Outside the house, the officer drew his duty weapon and ordered Tolan and his cousin to lie face down on the front porch, and accused them of having a stolen car.
Tolan protested, saying, “That’s my car.”
The commotion woke his parents and Tolan’s mom and dad came outside in their pajamas. In an effort to calm the situation, Tolan’s father, a former Major League Baseball player, told his son and nephew to comply with the officer’s commands.
When the cop explained that the two had been driving a stolen car, the parents tried to set the record straight. “This is my nephew,” said the father, his hands in the air. “This is my son. We live here. This is my house.” In addition, Robert Tolan’s mother pleaded, “Sir, this is a big mistake. This car is not stolen. . . . That’s our car.”
About then another cop pulled up, this one with rank – Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton. Tolan’s mother again said the SUV wasn’t stolen. Sgt. Cotton ordered her to move and stand by a garage door.
What happened next is disputed, so I’ll let the United States Supreme Court tell you:
The Tolan family contends the officer grabbed her arm and “slammed her against the garage door.” Sgt. Cotton claims he was “escorting the mother to the garage (and) she flipped her arm up and told him to get his hands off her.”
Be that as it may, nobody disputes what happened next.
From 15 feet away Robert Tolan said, “Get your f***king hands off my Mom.”
It’s disputed whether he rose to his knees or feet, but what is clear, is he was unarmed except for some attitude. Still, at this point his only crime – and I don’t think it’s in the penal code – was using armor-piercing words to defend Mom.
The sergeant, however, didn’t need words. In fact the family claims he never gave a warning. He fired three shots at Robert Tolan. One bullet collapsed his chest and pierced his liver, but he survived.
This was no comedy of errors. It was buffoonery. Why these fools disbelieved Mom’s and Dad’s exculpating statements is baffling. Obviously they lived there. They came out in their nightclothes at 2 a.m. Perhaps the cops thought they were the pajama gang.
These Barney-Fifes should have rerun the SUV’s correct plate number to learn whether the car was actually stolen. Had they, this story wouldn’t have ended in a police shooting. It would have ended in a police oops! – humbling, to be sure, but not deadly.
On Cinco de Mayo the Supreme Court ruled that Robert’s civil lawsuit against Sgt. Cotton, alleging excessive force, had been improperly dismissed, and sent it back for further proceedings in federal court. After the shooting Sgt. Cotton was criminally charged with assaulting Robert, but a jury acquitted him.