The Case of Robert Tolan v. Jeffrey Wayne Cotton

Subtitled: How a police officer making a typographical error resulted in a man having a bullet shot through his lung.

Before the civil case could proceed to trial, it went to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Supreme Court decided that it should go to trial.  I thought that we would have a trial to follow this week, but trial in this case is not going to happen.

The SCOTUS decision gives us the details.

Robert Tolan

Robert Tolan

In Bellaire, Texas, on December 31, 2008, around 2 a.m., Robert Tolan and his cousin, Anthony Cooper, were in a black Nissan sport utility vehicle. Police officer John Edwards entered the license plate number into a computer in his squad car, but he typed a “5” instead of a “6”. That mistake returned a match for a stolen vehicle of the same color and make of the Tolan vehicle. When that happens, the patrol car’s computer sends an automatic message to other police units.

The house where Robert and his cousin parked was where Robert lives with his parents. They were on the front porch when officer Edwards got out of his cruiser, drew his weapon, and ordered Robert and Anthony to get on the ground. Edwards accused them of having a stolen car. Robert told Edwards it was his car, and he complied with Edwards’ demand to lie face-down.

Hearing the commotion, Robert’s parents came out of the front door in their pajamas. Robert’s father encouraged the two young men to stay face down and say nothing. Officer Edwards told Robert’s parents that Robert and Anthony had stolen the vehicle. Robert’s dad told officer Edwards that Robert is his son, Anthony is his nephew, and that the vehicle belonged to the family.

Edwards radioed for help, and Sergeant Jeffrey Cotton arrived and drew his firearm. Edwards told Cotton that Robert and Anthony had stolen the vehicle. Robert’s parents reiterated what they told Edwards. Cotton ordered Robert’s mom to stand against the garage door. In response, she stated “Are you kidding me? We’ve lived here for 15 years. We’ve never had anything like this to happen before.”

Jeff Cotton

Bellaire Police Sergeant Jeffrey Cotton

What happened next is under dispute. Cotton was indicted in Harris County, Texas for aggravated assault by a public servant, but he was acquitted. During that criminal trial, Robert’s mom testified that Cotton grabbed her arm and slammed her against the garage door so forcefully that she fell to the ground. Photographic evidence supported that she had bruises on her arms and back for days.

Cotton testified at his deposition that he did not know if he left bruises but did not believe that he bruised her. Robert testified that when he saw Cotton abusively handling his mom, that he rose to his knees. Edwards and Cotton however, testified that Robert rose to his feet.


Bobby Tolan with Padres

All of the parties agree that Cotton fired three shots at Robert. His mom testifiedtolan72t that the shots came with no verbal warning. One of the bullets entered Robert’s chest, collapsing his right lung and piercing his liver.   Robert survived, but the injury disrupted his budding professional baseball career.  In case you don’t recognize Robert’s last name, his dad is World Champion major league baseball player Bob Tolan.

In May 2009, Anthony, Robert, and Robert’s parents filed suit alleging that Cotton used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided that if even if Cotton’s conduct violated their Fourth Amendment rights, that Cotton was entitled to qualified immunity.

The SCOTUS decision addresses requirements to support qualified immunity. They reversed the decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.   One of the Tolans’ attorneys is Benjamin Crump, who represented Trayvon Martin’s parents.

A few days ago, ABC news reported that Cotton and the City of Bellaire, Texas settled with Robert for $110,000. It Tolan and Crumpwas a small amount, but after more than 6 years, the Tolans say they are ready to move on. The outcome of trial was not certain. For one thing, in spite of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case, presiding Judge Harmon said that she was considering dismissing the case a second time.

The Houston Press has more about recent developments in the trial court just before the settlement was reached.  It also addresses the precedent set by SCOTUS regarding qualified immunity.

The following video is from 2013. Robert is moving on and in that process, helping others.


Posted on 09/17/2015, in Cases, Cops Gone Wild, Robert Tolan and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Mr. Militant Negro

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To all the idiots who continue to state “Just comply with Law Enforcement Obey their commands” read this story from top to bottom. Complying doesn’t mean squat if they have an itchy trigger finger, they are going to use it regardless.

    Good work Xena

    Liked by 5 people

  3. yahtzeebutterfly

    Thanks for your great article here, Xena.

    Seems so easy for innocent people to be unjustly treated and/or shot by incompetent police.

    This has to stop NOW. That cop should be fired.

    Only competent and humane individuals should be allowed to wear a badge.

    Liked by 3 people

    • scrodriguez

      The issue is the police train specifically for the use of their gun that is the forefront of their training so its always the 1st thing that comes to mind.
      Officers need to learn how to de escalate situations and better acess situations before thinking about drawing their firearm.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Hey Yahtzee! It would have been so simple for Edwards to re-check the license plate info he entered, asked to see the registration and then apologize and tell the people to have a nice evening. He didn’t want to and repeated the wrong info to Cotton. It’s a hard job trying to determine if “suspects” are telling the truth, but it’s necessary because law enforcement are people subject to mistakes like anyone else.

      Had SCOTUS not heard the case, qualified immunity just because of the job title would have stayed on the books.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh. My God. What a totally avoidable situation and all the cops there should have been immediately fired. Even with the typo made, you don’t shoot people over stolen property.

    The biggest problem we face in American right now, in my opinion, is not Islamic terrorism, or the economy, or anything else – it’s our own law enforcement and stuff that needs reform in the justice system. Most members of the American public are so used to violence and abuse that they think this kind of behavior by cops is acceptable.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Two sides, it’s Texas, like Florida, Missouri, New York, Ohio, California, South Carolina ……

      “Most members of the American public are so used to violence and abuse that they think this kind of behavior by cops is acceptable.”

      That, and the oppressive conclusion that nothing can or will be done about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Off topic;

    Dylan Roof’s friend, Joseph Meek has been arrested. Earlier this month, Meek received a letter informing him that he was under investigation for making false statements to investigators and for knowing about a crime before or after it was committed but failing to report it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yahtzeebutterfly

      Thanks for this info and link, Xena.


    • roderick2012

      I knew that idiot was going to get in trouble.

      I wonder what’s going to happen to Dylan’s black friend who also claimed that he knew about Dylan’s plans beforehand.

      These kids think that they are special when they talk to the media not realizing the potential consequences.


  6. Thanks for this!


  7. roderick2012

    Instead of asking to see a copy of the registration the cops insisted that it was stolen?

    I had a similar incident several years ago.

    I was returning to my apartment around 11:30 from the gym.

    I live in a gated community and I was pulled over by a cop who said that I didn’t make a full stop at the stop sign. Of course it’s almost midnight so there was no traffic.

    After he a-hole cop returned my driver’s license, insurance card and registration he made sure that l knew why he really pulled me over–he stated that he thought I had stolen my fairly new Honda Pilot.


    • Hey Roderick. What an assumption by that officer. I’m surprised he didn’t ask to see your bank statement.


      • roderick2012

        Ha, ha, ha!!

        If it hadn’t been so late he probably would have.


        • Roderick,
          LOL! Along with the name of your employer and if they’re hiring because he knows someone looking for a job, right? 🙂


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