When Chelsea Robinson saw the video of her father’s arrest, she was taken aback.
“It broke my heart,” Robinson said. “He was just standing there, not doing anything.”
It was April 10 of last year, and Hughie Robinson, who was 52 at the time, had just finished a four-day stint at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He was a kidney patient, suffering from stage 4 renal failure.
On April 7, he got good news: he was second in line for a possible kidney transplant. So on that day, he drove to the hospital and parked in the garage where he normally parked, on Kingshighway near Interstate 64 (Highway 40). He was in the hospital for four days, in a weakened state, drugged and prepared for the transplant that never came.
On April 10, he went home. But the hospital called. He forgot his wallet in the room. When you come back, they told him, park in the garage on Euclid and Forest Park avenues. Robinson did what he was asked. He retrieved his wallet and then started the walk back to the Kingshighway garage, where he normally parked.
Robinson looked for his Buick and couldn’t find it. He asked for help at the main desk. He looked again to no avail, this time with the help of a security guard. Eventually, while he was wandering the garage looking for his car, he caught the attention of other Barnes-Jewish security guards.
This is how his arrest is described in the lawsuit he filed last year against the hospital for assault, battery and false imprisonment:
“While Hughie was continuing to look for his Buick, several of Defendant’s security guards, including the guard who had earlier been assigned to help Hughie locate his car, approached Hughie. Hughie asked, ‘What did I do?’ The guards did not answer. Instead, one guard grabbed Hughie’s shoulder and arm forcefully, in the spot where Hughie’s arm was tender from the port. Another of Defendant’s guards tackled Hughie. Both guards began to beat him. A third guard then jumped on top of Hughie. Hughie cried out that the guards were hurting him. At least one of the guards responded, ‘Good.’ The guards then forced Hughie into a pair of handcuffs. All of this was on video.”
About that video: Chelsea almost didn’t get to see it. After her father’s attorney, Richard Voytas, filed the lawsuit, attorneys for BJC HealthCare sought a protective order to keep videos out of the public eye. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Joan Moriarty granted the order but later reversed herself, when it was clear that the two key videos didn’t show any other identifiable patients that might have privacy concerns.
After tackling Robinson, the three officers took him to an interrogation room, where they questioned him about what he was doing in the garage. In the room, one video shows an officer using “his forearm to smash Hughie’s head into the wall,” according to the lawsuit. The officers told Robinson, “If one of my officers, or WashU officers see you back on this property again, we’re going to do this whole thing again, cause you ain’t supposed to be here. You cool with that? … Don’t come back”
Robinson, of course, had to come back. He was still receiving regular treatment for his kidney condition. For a while, he would call Voytas and ask him to come along for appointments.
“He was scared,” his daughter said.
In court filings, BJC denies wrongdoing in the arrest and follow-up interrogation. Moriarty ruled against BJC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Through a spokeswoman, BJC declined comment on the pending litigation.
In the time since the lawsuit was filed, Robinson succumbed to his illness and died. Now his daughter hopes the case provides some level of justice for the man that she said used to “light up” the room.
Chelsea Robinson showed me the videos recently when we met at a coffee shop. She keeps them on her phone. She still has a sense of disbelief when she sees what happened to her father, a disoriented kidney patient who was handled as a criminal by the hospital that was treating him. I saw in the videos what she saw, what the lawsuit alleges: an unnecessary and violent take-down, followed by an aggressive interrogation of a man whose only crime was he couldn’t find his car.
“Anybody with common sense can see what happened,” she said. “I just want justice for my father.”