An HBO “Real Sports” Update to the Sadly Underreported Story of Robbie Tolan
On December 31, 2008 minor league baseball player Robbie Tolan, son of former MLB star and World Series champion Bobby Tolan was brutally shot by a police officer on the doorstep of his parent’s Bellaire, Texas home.
Tolan and his cousin drove home and were followed by
February 2009 HBO Sports first aired a story on the shooting. Bryant Gumbel, in the the most recent HBO Real Sports show, has updated the story which includes visual and audio evidence recorded by police from the Tolan’s home that New Year’s Eve early morning.
That night officer John Edwards followed Tolan and his cousin for over two miles to the house in which Tolan grew up. Assuming that the SUV Tolan was driving was stolen and that the pair were about to rob a home, Edwards detained the two men while he ran Tolan’s license number and the SUV’s plates. Edwards said his initial reason for following the men was because Tolan was driving “a little erratically.”
Strangely, Edwards gave the dispatcher the wrong license number – off by one digit – which led the dispatcher to inform him that the auto “might” be stolen. Edwards called for backup. Sergeant Jeffrey Cotton arrived on the scene as the Bobby Tolan and his wife were exiting their front door in their pajamas only to find their son and his cousin prone in front of them. Rather than ask if they knew the pair, Cotton told the elder Tolan to put his hands up and assume the position against his own SUV. Mrs. Tolan was telling the officer that Robbie was her son and had done nothing. Cotton took Mrs. Tolan and slammed her into the garage door. At that moment Robbie arose, telling Cotton to get his hands off his mother.
Cotton, without a word, turned and fired his weapon at Tolan three times, once striking the minor leaguer in the chest.
An ambulance was called. After it arrived Cotton shoved the Tolans into the two police cars. When Mrs. Tolan complained that she was not a suspect, that her son had been shot by him, and that she needed to be with her son, cotton told her she was going nowhere because she “a witness.”
Robbie Tolan nearly died from the gunshot. Cotton was put on paid administrative leave but was later acquitted of aggravated assault by a Bellaire jury consisting of 10 Whites and two blacks. They allegedly believed the contrived story that Cotton believed that Tolan had a weapon and “feared for his life”
In Houston Blacks are four times more likely to be pulled over by police in their vehicles than are Whites; in Bellaire 12 times. Suburb city Mayor Cindy Siegel told Gumbel:
I can’t, I can’t answer that. I think it’s a function of what the police, you know, of what they see and why they stopped (sic).
Then Siegel, lamely, in a retort dripping with racism added:
I hear from White people that have been stopped by our Bellaire police, So, do I think we’re racially profiling? I don’t think the statistics show that.
This was after Gumbel, on camera with the mayor, informed her of the fact that police in her city pulled over Black drivers three times more often than they are pulled over in Houston.
Think of this, folks. A young Black man and his cousin are held at gunpoint by the police outside of their home. The young man’s parents exit their home in their pajamas —- yet somehow cannot convince the White officer that one of the young men is their son and the other is his cousin.
As a result an officer shoots and nearly kills the son. And not only is the officer acquitted of this obvious racist act but is happily back on the job. The Mayor of the city, despite visual and audio evidence to the contrary, defends the officer’s actions. Despite this evidence, the officer continues to lie. The police chief quite apparently backs the officer, and a jury that includes two Black people exonerate the officer.
All this happens in an affluent suburb of Houston, Texas in a town that has produced the 2000 National Little League Champions, Chuck Knoblauch, Jose Cruz, Jr., and Bubba Crosby. One of its citizens, Bobby Tolan, was a World Series champion. His son was the star of his high school team and, perhaps, on his way to a professional career in the big leagues.
All of this happens in idyllic America. Not the “ghetto.” Not the “barrio.” It happens one of the wealthiest suburbs in all of Texas.
And guess what folks, it was so shoved under the rug that ESPN and most other mainstream sports news outlets never aired or wrote anything meaningful about this story. Only Jemele Hill mentioned the Tolan story ——– as part of a general column about racial profiling as it pertains to Black athletes.
No investigative articles about the Tolan shooting exist. No E:60 report exists. No 30 minute Outside the Lines report exists. Kelly Naqi was never posted up in Bellaire or seen interviewing a shadowy, voice-altered to protect his identity former or current Bellaire policeman telling the nation of the overt racial profiling that so obviously exists in Bellaire; that is so obviously condoned and seemingly egged on by the town’s mayor.
Nah, nothing to see here. Move along.
Too bad, by way of apology, that’s not what the police told the Tolans, their son Robbie, and his cousin on New Year’s Eve morning in 2008.
The Tolans have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bellaire in federal acourt alleging that their civil rights were violated in the incident.
(Many kudos to Bryant Gumbel and Real Sports for doggedly pursuing the story and revealing this new information.)
See Real Sport with Bryant Gumbel Update:
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