The Dewey Beach police officer who fatally shot 21-year-old Rodney Robinson on March 19, 2022, was justified in using deadly force, an investigation by the Department of Justice found.
The department’s Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust said that Officer Dylan Ebke reasonably feared for his life and that of another officer when he shot Robinson.
Officers say they saw gun on Robinson
Ebke and other Dewey Beach police officers were first called by employees at The Starboard restaurant at 1:13 a.m., according to the Department of Justice. Employees told police that a man left the building with a gun, and the Justice Department said four officers then chased after Robinson on foot.
Ebke said he saw what he believed was a gun in Robinson’s waistband, and surveillance video from The Starboard shows Robinson displaying a handgun to a friend who had driven him to the restaurant.
Police chased suspect
Robinson managed to outrun police, according to the report, but was then seen outside The Starboard again an hour later. Security called police, and Ebke and fellow officer John Rhodes responded. They chased Robinson into an alley behind Izzy Plaza, and Robinson found himself stuck at a dead end.
Police told Robinson to turn around with his arms raised, the Department of Justice said. As Robinson turned, Rhodes used a taser on him, though neither officer reported that it had any effect. Analysis later showed that one of the taser’s two wires hit the fence in the alley, which would make it ineffective.
Ebke told the Department of Justice that Robinson then lifted up his sweatshirt with “a thousand-yard stare” and reached for a bulge on the right side of his pants, which Ebke said he believed was a gun.
Ebke fired once at Robinson, according to the Justice Department, hitting Robinson on the right side of his chest. Both officers ran for cover; Ebke said he expected to be shot in the back.
However, Robinson never shot at the officers. He instead tried to run away but collapsed in a backyard behind The Starboard.
Officers followed a trail of blood from the alleyway into the yard, where they found Robinson and a gun near his feet, the Department of Justice reported. Officers gave Robinson CPR and used a defibrillator, but he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Go-Pro camera not turned on
Rhodes was wearing a Go-Pro camera on his vest at the time of the shooting but did not turn it on, according to the Department of Justice. It was a demonstration model, meaning no other officers had body cameras, and was last used the evening before the shooting.
Robinson’s family protested the shooting and sought legal damages, calling the decision of Ebke, who is white, to shoot Robinson, who was Black, a civil rights violation. They could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
State police initially refused to release Robinson’s race at a press conference before he was named as the victim. Ultimately, the Justice Department determined that there was “no evidence to suggest that race was a relevant or motivating factor in the use of force.”
When asked about his decision to use deadly force, Ebke told the Department of Justice that, “due to my previous encounter with (Robinson), and overhearing what was said at the Starboard, (he) believed that (Robinson) was armed with a handgun.”
“Sorry, let me restate that,” Ebke said after. “I know that (Robinson) was armed with a handgun. Umm, I feared for Rhodes’ life, because he was within close proximity. This guy is now approaching me, I am kind of cornered now. And he is reaching into his waistband. I see the bulge. I feared for my life at that point.”
Another Dewey Beach Police Department officer described Ebke as “very upset” and “really shook up” after the shooting, according to the Department of Justice’s report.
The full report by the Department of Justice is available online.
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