Hinds County Judge Faye Peterson said during a prosecution hearing that was live-streamed on Thursday that state prosecutors failed to present evidence that the officers, Desmond Barney and Lincoln Lampley, acted criminally in the Jan. 13, 2019, detainment of 62-year-old George Robinson.
“There was nothing on its face that was illegal,” Peterson said. “The detention of a suspect is not a criminal act and there was no proof presented that they were conspiring.”
The officers, who are both black, were on trial for second-degree murder after allegedly assaulting Robinson, a black man, during a traffic stop. They were employed with the Jackson Police Department at the time and were seeking suspects in relation to the fatal shooting of a pastor who had been killed in a robbery in front of his church.
An indictment said both officers were with a third officer, Anthony Fox, who is also black and is still facing a trial separately in connection to the same incident, The Associated Press reported.
Robinson failed to comply when they asked him to step out of his vehicle so that police could look for controlled substances, as they believed they had seen him dealing drugs and also noticed a large amount of money scattered throughout the vehicle.
In the process of Robinson’s detention, they allegedly removed him forcibly from his car, slammed him into the pavement head-first, and repeatedly kicked and struck him in his head and chest.
Following a brief detention, Robinson was released and rejected any medical aid. He then fell unconscious in his hotel room hours later. He was rushed to a hospital where he died of a subdural hemorrhage, the Mississippi Free Press reported.
Jackson Police Chief James Davis previously said he wasn’t taken into custody because the officers conducted a field release, where the suspect is given a court date instead of being taken to jail. The officers also weren’t wearing body cameras at the time.
Peterson also noted that witnesses who testified about the incident failed to identify the officers, as everyone was reportedly wearing face coverings at the time of the incident.
Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said he was surprised by the judge’s decision, as the evidence presented in the case was “significant,” WLBT-TV reported.
“Significant evidence was presented. … Three eyewitnesses identified that officers did body-slam Mr. Robinson. Medical professionals … acknowledged that Mr. Robinson died of blunt force trauma,” Owens said.
Owens also implied that the proceedings may have lent credence to the upcoming case against Fox, but didn’t mention him by name.
“In the trial, a defendant’s name was mentioned consistently. It was not a defendant that was on trial today,” Owens told the Mississippi Free Press.