Geoffrey Berg, representing Bellaire resident Robbie Tolan, says he and other attorneys representing the family “will not be intimidated” by a letter from an attorney representing the City of Bellaire. The letter accuses Berg and other co-counsel of violating rule 3.07 of the Texas State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct in statements made to the media.
“Much of what you, particularly, and your clients to some extent, have said seems to be insupportable, baseless, and, most importantly, likely to be both inadmissible and prejudicial in connection with the lawsuit your clients have reported, and you and your father have told me, they intend to file,” wrote attorney William S. Helfan to Berg.
“It’s a stupid threat that was made for no reason other than to silence us and to silence the Tolans and no lawyer working on this case is going to be intimidated by a bunch of tin pot dictators,” said Berg.
Tolan, 23, was returning to his parent’s home in the 800 block of Woodstock around 2 a.m. late December when he was confronted by officers. According to Bellaire police, the officers were investigating a stolen vehicle, which turned out to be in error.
An altercation ensued, which ended with Sergeant Jeff Cotton, a 10-year-veteran of the Bellaire Police Department, shooting Tolan in front of his home. Cotton has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by both the police department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
In response to the shooting, and to address concerns of racial profiling, the city has hired racial profiling expert Alex Del Carmen to review all traffic stops made by the department in 2008. The city will pay about $7,000 for the analysis and hopes Carmen’s findings will be presented to council at the March 16 meeting.
Until now, the department has compiled the statistics internally, and presented the information to council annually. Assistant Police Chief Byron Holloway says Carmen has been hired “because the issue was raised.”
“What happens when the fox guards the henhouse is that someone ends up getting shot,” said Berg.
Tolan said yesterday that Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel should step down from her position. Siegel addressed the shooting in her recent State of the City Address, calling it a “very difficult time,” but adding that it is “irresponsible for anyone to be discussing or speculating about the investigation to the media.”
“I know that many of you are as saddened and sorry that this tragedy occurred as I am,” said Siegel. “At this time it would be inappropriate for me to speak about this incident, though, due to the ongoing Harris County District Attorney’s investigation.”
“He (Tolan) wants wholesale changes in the way the police department operates and the way the city operates as an authority over the police department,” said Berg. “It’s an endemic problem in the city of Bellaire. You cannot run a city where an African American is 12 times more likely to be stopped than a white person and not believe there is a problem there.” Berg says that statistic is from the police departments own reports.
Berg says the Tolan family continues to work with the District Attorney’s Office, but will almost surely file a lawsuit against the city.
“We hope to see something come of it,” said Berg. “We are virtually certain to sue, but our focus right now is the District Attorney. We are looking for justice through that avenue right now. It’s frustrating because the Tolans are just waiting. I wish it would get done, but we are working with the District Attorney in the way in which they have asked are we are being patient.”
Berg says Tolan’s recovery from the gunshot wound is slow. The .45 caliber bullet traveled from the upper right side of his chest down into his abdomen, and is still lodged in his liver.
“He can’t run…he can’t do all the things he did before,” said Berg. “He is managing a very slow recovery.”
According to Berg, Tolan no longer wants to live in Bellaire.
“I believe his mother’s view is that the police are not going to chase them out,” said Berg.