More than a dozen family and friends of 23-year-old Robert Tolan left Bellaire City Hall tonight “disappointed” in the city’s response to the shooting of Tolan by a Bellaire police officer in the early hours of Dec. 31.
Tolan, a Bellaire resident, was returning to his home in the 800 block of Woodstock around 2 a.m. when he was confronted by officers. According to Bellaire police, the officers were investigating a stolen vehicle, and 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.
Attorney’s Geoffrey Berg and George Gibson, representing the Tolan family, spoke for the family following City Manager Bernie Satterwhite and Mayor Cindy Seigal’s comments on the shooting at Monday’s council meeting.
“There was more political consideration and political grandstanding than caring for a member of this community who was shot, in front of his house, unarmed after he had done nothing wrong,” said Berg. “If the city had expressed some regret that a member of its police force shot a member of a family – the only African American family on the block – in the middle of the night for no reason, it would have been nice, I think, for the family to have at least heard that.”
Satterwhite spoke on the matter during his city manager’s report, saying that he knows that many members f council and city administration “feel bad” about the incident but that any conclusions on the outcome of the investigation would be premature at this point. Satterwhite said he would not speculate as to whether racial profiling played a role in the shooting, but added that profiling is prohibited by the police department.
Satterwhite said he knows Cotton, and the police department, well.
“The question then becomes could that knowledge of the police officer and the police department cloud my judgment, and bias my speculation on this matter,” said Satterwhite. “I don’t really know but I suppose it could. That is why I think it is so important to let the investigation proceed before responding to questions that involve only speculations.”
Seigal said the incident was “very, very unfortunate event” and that her prayers and thoughts are with the Tolan family.
“Tonight we are not going to sit here and debate the subject and politically grandstand by trying to second guess what should have been done,” said Seigal. “Our Bellaire police put their lives n the line every day on behalf of Bellaire’s residents and they will continue to do so. However, once Harris County’s investigation is complete and based upon the finding, the city will take any steps that are needed to ensure the safety of all Bellaire residents and that your concerns are addressed.”
Gibson said a lawsuit against the city is not out of the question, but that the family right now is focusing on Tolan’s recovery and the investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“We are trying to get to the bottom if the incident the best we can,” said Gibson. “…We will move forward with any action when the evidence seems like it warrants it.”
Berg said the family has not received an explanation from police as to why they believed Tolan’s car, a 2004 Nissan Xterra, was stolen.
According to both attorneys, Tolan has a long way to go for a full recovery, and will live the rest of his life with a .45 caliber bullet lodged in his liver.
“The bullet traveled from the upper right side of his chest down into his abdomen, which should tell you something about the relative position of the people who were there,” said Berg.
“He’s not in good shape, and he’s going to take a lot more care and rehabilitation,” said Gibson.