Thursday, September 15, 2011

Victim Impact Statement of Daughters and Family of Raymond Robair

Two former New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers were sentenced today in relation to the beating death of Raymond Robair and subsequent cover-up. US District Judge Eldon Fallon sentenced former NOPD Officer Melvin Williams, known to many New Orleanians by his street nickname "Flattop," to 262 months in prison for violating the civil rights of Robair by beating him to death, and for obstructing justice in the wake of that beating. Williams was also ordered to pay $11,576 in restitution.

Former NOPD Officer Matthew Dean Moore, who was working as Williams’ partner on the day of the beating, was sentenced to 70 months in prison for obstructing justice and for making false statements to the FBI during a federal investigation into Robair’s death.

Below is the victim impact statement as read by Judonna Mitchell, the daughter of Raymond Robair at today's sentencing.

My name is Judonna Mitchell. I am the daughter of Raymond Robair. I am making this statement on behalf of myself, my sister, Lashonda Saulsberry, our grandmother, Marie Robair, and Raymond’s brothers and sisters, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

We understand that we’re here today for the court to sentence former New Orleans police officers Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore for their responsibility in the death and cover-up of the death of our father.

We appreciate the opportunity to tell the Court about the impact of our father’s death on our family and our community. We are only sorry that our father could not be here himself. Had either of these men told the truth to the doctors at Charity hospital about our father’s injuries, he would be alive today. Instead, their actions and their lies cost our father his life.

We are extremely grateful for the successful efforts of the Department of Justice and the local US Attorneys Office in prosecuting this case. We also give thanks to Ms. Merline Kimble and the brave people of Treme who came forward, despite their fear, to testify. Otherwise the truth would never have been known. And although it has been painful to know what happened to our father, we are thankful, finally, that these men will be held accountable for their actions.

We have learned from witnesses that Mr. Williams beat, kicked, and stomped our father, while Mr. Moore stood by, doing nothing to protect him or to intervene. This brutal, unjustified attack took place in broad daylight, on a Saturday morning in Treme, on a street filled with ordinary people going about their daily lives. The witnesses, some of whom later testified at trial, described a "piercing scream" as Mr. Williams beat our father, without mercy, while Mr. Moore stood by and did nothing to protect him.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore then took our father to Charity hospital, where they lied about our father’s condition, leading the doctors and medical staff to pursue the wrong course of treatment. The lies these two men told at Charity hospital about our father’s medical condition caused his death as surely as if they had shot him to dead on the spot. They then returned to our father’s neighborhood that same day, threatening and intimidating witnesses. They wrote a false police report to cover up their actions, and have maintained their lies for years. They also tried to degrade our father and his entire neighborhood as if the people who live and work on St. Phillip St. in Treme deserved this kind of mistreatment.

Thanks to this trial, the cover-up of Raymond Robair’s death is over. That in itself is a relief to us. But it cannot bring our father back.

The death of our father has been devastating for our family. Our father was our protector, our provider, our strongest advocate, and a true friend. When we were children, he would hold us at night when we were afraid, and even when he could not be physically close to us, he always made sure we knew that he loved us and was thinking of us.

Raymond was funny. He could always make you laugh. Just seeing Raymond would always bring a smile to our faces. He was a great dancer. Our family gatherings were fun when Raymond was alive because he always made sure that everyone was enjoying themselves and having a good time. To this day we miss him when we all get together; it’s just not the same without him.

Our father was also our grandmother’s nurse and helper. Our grandmother, Marie Robair, Raymond’s mother, is 81 years old. She had 13 children, 7 of whom are alive today. Raymond is the only child of our grandmother who died as a result of violence.

Raymond would go to the store for her, cook and clean and care for her. Whenever she needed help she would call on Raymond. He was always there for her. In fact, he was the helper for our whole family. He was always busy doing home repairs, cutting the grass on our lawns, cooking and cleaning for us.

And he didn’t just take care of our children and our family. The kids in the neighborhood loved Raymond. He played with them, fixed their bikes, and looked out for them. When one of the neighborhood children heard that the police had killed Raymond, this child couldn’t understand how this could happen because, as he said, "Everyone Loves Raymond".

Raymond would help anyone, at any time, and he didn’t expect anything in return. He once ran into a burning house and rescued a woman trapped inside. He became the caretaker of an elderly woman whose family didn’t look after her. Raymond would shop, cook, and clean for her, until she died. Raymond was the kind of person that makes a neighborhood a community. Raymond would also try to help people. This is what he was doing on the morning he was killed—he was waiting on the front stoop of his neighbor’s house to fix her roof when Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore drove up in their police car and proceeded to beat him to death.

It is obvious to us that Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore were blinded by their own prejudices when they pulled up in front of our father that day. They did not see the true Raymond. They did not stop to consider that they were beating and kicking a man who nursed his sick mother, who helped to parent five grandchildren and had another on the way, and who would be celebrating his 49th birthday with his family the following week. They did not even see our father as a human being. Instead, they saw our father as something less than human, someone who they could hurt, even kill, without consequence.

Maybe they thought that no one would care about Raymond. Maybe they thought that no one loved Raymond enough to fight to hold them accountable for causing his death.

How else can we understand how Mr. Williams would think he could get away with brutally beating our father in broad daylight, in front of so many witnesses. How else can we understand how Mr. Moore could stand by and fail to protect our father? Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore must have believed that the people in the neighborhood, the witnesses, would never have the courage to tell what they saw. And if the witnesses did come forward, Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore must have been confident that no one would believe them, because, after all, they lived in a neighborhood that these officers helped to stigmatize.

In some ways, Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore were right about the fear and intimidation that paralyzed the community. As far as we know, no one called 911 that morning. They were terrified when they saw what these police officers did to our father. They knew of Mr. Williams’ reputation for violence and dirty deeds. And we can’t blame them for not calling. Who do you call when it is the police themselves committing the violence and breaking the law?

And when witnesses did come forward, the police department disregarded them or intimidated them instead of taking their accounts seriously. If not for the federal government stepping in, this situation would still be going on today and we would never have had justice for Raymond.

Given his reputation, it is shocking to us that Mr. Williams was a Field Training Officer for the NOPD, in charge of "showing the ropes" to new recruits fresh out of the Academy. It is shocking, but it helps explain why we have so many problems with our police department. He trained Mr. Moore all right; he trained him in how to abuse and mistreat citizens and how to lie and cover it up.

And unfortunately, Mr. Moore was a willing and eager student who learned his lessons well. Instead of trying to stop Mr. Williams’ attacks, or telling the truth at the hospital, Mr. Moore chose to uphold the code of silence that protects violent officers like Melvin Williams.

We understand the situation Mr. Moore was in as a rookie officer. We also understand that Mr. Moore is an adult, who supposedly knew right from wrong. He had just gone through months of training at the Academy. But you don’t have to go to school to know that what Mr. Williams did to our father was wrong and against the law. We cannot condone or excuse Mr. Moore’s actions in any way.

Mr. Moore had just recently taken an oath to protect and serve our community, yet he made a mockery of that oath. And then he continued to violate that oath during the last six years, by lying and covering up what happened, including the lies he told on the witness stand in this trial. His disrespect for our father and our community is overshadowed only by his disrespect for the truth. Mr. Moore lied and our father died. We are thankful that the jury could see through his lies

With regard to the sentences for these two former NOPD officers, we believe Mr. Williams should be sentenced to the maximum penalty. He must be held accountable for the brutal beating and the death of our father, for covering up his crime and for withholding information that could have saved our father’s life. We feel that he should face the most severe consequences possible for hiding behind his badge as he committed these terrible crimes.

We also believe that Mr. Moore should be sentenced to the maximum sentence. We do not come to this conclusion lightly. Our hearts go out to Mr. Moore’s family, and especially his children. But we have to ask, where was Mr. Moore’s heart as he watched our father being attacked? Where was his heart when he stayed silent at the hospital, instead of trying to save our father’s life? And where was Mr. Moore’s heart in the years since, when he was given so many opportunities to tell the truth and chose not to?

We urge the court to impose the maximum sentence upon Mr. Moore not only to punish him for his crime but also to deter other police officers who may be in similar situations and who think that they don’t have to intervene to protect our citizens, that they don’t have to report wrong-doing by other officers, including their supervisors, who think that they can lie and cover-up crimes by fellow police officers, with no serious consequences.

We speak today as Raymond’s family but also as parents, trying to raise our children right in a city that we love. As parents, we frequently find ourselves at a loss when our children tell us that they are afraid of the police, or that they would not call the police if they were in trouble. We tell them that there are good police officers and that the police are here to protect them. But actions like those of Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore make it difficult for our children to believe us.

To this day, more than six years after our father’s death, Mr. Williams and Mr. Moore have never accepted responsibility for what they did. We hope they will seriously reflect on what they have done to Raymond and to so many other people in our community. We hope, for their own sakes, that someday they may feel remorse for the devastation they have caused.

It hurts us every day that Raymond is gone, but we know that he did not die in vain. We felt him with us every day in this courtroom. Raymond’s death exposed the crimes of these officers, and we feel that Raymond has now brought justice for many families within our community.

We will never be able to bring Raymond back. But we are at last able to move forward, as a family and a community, toward healing and justice.

Thank you.

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