Federal authorities say they won’t press charges in Shanquella Robinson case

CHARLOTTE — The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Wednesday they don’t have enough evidence available to prosecute anyone in the Shanquella Robinson case. That means any legal action over her death will come from Mexican authorities.

Shanquella Robinson, 26, was killed while on vacation in Cabo, Mexico with a group of people at the end of October 2022. An attorney for her family addressed the public about the case on Wednesday afternoon.

While expressing her disappointment, civil rights attorney Sue-Ann Robinson also revealed the U.S. autopsy performed after Shanquella was embalmed showed she did not have a spinal cord injury. That information directly contradicts the findings of Mexico’s autopsy report.

Federal authorities met with Shanquella Robinson’s family earlier Wednesday to offer condolences and present their findings. The family had previously called on the state department and White House to intervene and planned to rally on May 19 in Washington, D.C. if that didn’t happen.

The people Shanquella Robinson traveled to Mexico with said she died of alcohol poisoning. However, an autopsy performed in Mexico revealed that it was “severe spinal cord injury and atlas luxation.”

A video also surfaced of Robinson being attacked by another woman on the trip.

Mexican authorities filed an arrest warrant but there have been no arrests.

The FBI and prosecutors have made the case a priority, and have conducted a detailed investigation into the available evidence, they said. The Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office also conducted an autopsy.

“As in every case under consideration for federal prosecution, the government must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a federal crime was committed,” federal prosecutors said in a news release. “Based on the results of the autopsy and after a careful deliberation and review of the investigative materials by both U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal prosecutors informed Ms. Robinson’s family today that the available evidence does not support a federal prosecution.”

Prosecutors said they don’t normally share statements in cases like this but are doing so because of how public the case is.

“It is important to reassure the public that experienced federal agents and seasoned prosecutors extensively reviewed the available evidence and have concluded that federal charges cannot be pursued,” the release concludes.

It is not clear yet how the decision affects the arrest warrant that was issued by Mexican authorities.

‘Disappointed but not deterred’

Sue-Ann Robinson began the press conference Wednesday afternoon by saying, “We are disappointed but not deterred.”

“There’s no reason why a Black woman should go on vacation with her friends, be returned to her family in a box, and nothing be done for five months,” she said.

She also said the FBI interviewed the people who went on the trip with Shanquella Robinson, but said the interviews didn’t happen fast enough.

She mentioned the cases of Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, and George Floyd, saying, “Black and brown people always have to carve their own path to justice.”

“The U.S. authorities have to understand and have to know that, even if we’re them -- it’s not about Shanquella -- that United States citizens cannot go to Mexico, commit a crime that we all saw on a video, and then come back to America and say ‘we’re on base. We’re safe. We’re not going to be charged with a crime,’” Sue-Ann Robinson said. “That cannot be the message that the U.S. authorities want to send.”

Sue-Ann Robinson added, “The Mexican autopsy says there’s a spinal cord injury, but according to (USDOJ), there is no spinal cord injury.”

The U.S. autopsy did find brain swelling, she said. She also questioned why federal authorities decided not to prosecute when Shanquella Robinson’s cause of death was still undetermined.

“How are you closing an investigation on a case where the cause of death is undetermined?” Sue-Ann Robinson asked.

She said the undetermined cause of death could have come from the autopsy being delayed.

Sue-Ann Robinson said civil action can still be taken in the case, but for any further steps to be taken, there needs to be high-level intervention in the case.

Meck County autopsy report shows no spinal cord injury

Sue-Ann Robinson said there was no urgency from U.S. authorities on the case, and said there are discrepancies in Mexico’s autopsy results and Mecklenburg County’s, which was performed more than two weeks later.

Channel 9 obtained the Mecklenburg County autopsy report Wednesday. The office performed their autopsy on Nov. 17 and, along with additional examination from a neuropathologist, found no evidence of any spinal cord injury or atlas subluxation.

However, Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Owens said, “Based on the history and autopsy findings, it is my opinion that the cause of death in this case, is undetermined.”

The report disproves the findings in Mexico about Shanquella Robinson’s injuries saying, “Due to the limited nature of the prior examination, the spinal cord and the cervical vertebrae and ligaments were not directly visualized to confirm a suspected subluxation (disproven by autopsy.)”

The Mecklenburg County medical examiner added that they found, “The most significant findings at autopsy are the hematoma of the forehead … The hematoma of the forehead is consistent with blunt force trauma.”

“We’re going to stand with this family and continue to fight until some justice, some type of justice is served for this young lady,” said Mario Black, community activist.

Black, who has helped amplify the Shanquella Robinson family’s demands, said they feel caught in the middle of a game.

“It’s a ping-pong thing going on now,” Black said. “Mexico says they turned it over back in February to the United States and now here we are in April going into May -- the United States saying it’s over in Mexico.”

Former federal task force officer for the Department of Justice Robert Crispin is not directly involved with Shanquella Robinson’s case but has followed it closely.

“Mexican authorities say the spine was severed. U.S. authorities say it wasn’t. That’s a huge problem -- being able to authenticate the first original autopsy is a big deal in U.S. courts,” Crispin said.

Crispin said even though the U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute, the warrant that Mexican authorities issued for someone who was with Shanquella Robinson in Mexico still exists.

“There’s the MLATS, which is the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, and all the Mexican authorities have to do is request U.S. authorities to bring that person down to Mexico for prosecution,” Crispin said.

Sue-Ann Robinson and attorney Ben Crump released the following statement in response to the decision not to prosecute:

“There are U.S. and Mexican autopsy reports which show a difference in findings. These discrepancies can be credited to the delay in investigation by U.S. officials, who conducted a second autopsy once Shanquella’s body was embalmed. When an investigation is delayed, the hard evidence to support prosecution diminishes, but in this case, that is due to the U.S. not considering this case to be a high priority.

“While it is discouraging for the loved ones of Shanquella that their own Department of Justice will not be pursuing charges against Shanquella’s aggressor, it is our stance that justice is still possible for her death. We hope that there is still a chance at justice in Mexico. Mexican prosecutors have issued arrest warrants in this case and are willing to pursue charges. We strongly encourage The United States to move forward with the extradition of those responsible for her death to Mexico to face accountability there.”

Statement from Mecklenburg County:

“Shanquella Robinson expired while on vacation in Mexico on Oct. 29, 2022. A partial postmortem examination was performed in Mexico on Oct. 30, 2022, and her body was returned to the United States. Based on the limited examination performed in Mexico, her cause of death was attributed to ‘severe spinal cord injury with atlas luxation.’”

“The Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office was contacted on Nov. 16, 2022, to perform a complete autopsy examination to verify/ascertain the cause of her death. A complete postmortem examination of Ms. Robinson was performed on Nov. 17, 2022. During this examination, the brain and spinal cord were further examined by a neuropathologist and there was no evidence of any spinal cord injury or atlas subluxation. The official autopsy report, neuropathology report and toxicology results may be obtained through the ‘Document Request’ function using the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner online portal (www.ocme.dhhs.nc.gov).

“Dr. Thomas Owens, Mecklenburg County Chief Medical Examiner, has no further comment.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


(WATCH WEDNESDAY’S NEWS CONFERENCE: Civil rights attorney Sue-Ann Robinson speaks on Shanquella Robinson case)