Weeks after prosecutors announced that they would not bring any charges in the death of Shanquella Robinson, a 25-year-old Charlotte, N.C., woman who died last year while on a trip to Mexico with a friend and five other American travel mates, Robinson's family is raising doubts about the U.S. investigation.
Shanquella's mother, Sallamondra, believes she knows why Robinson is no longer alive and who did it based on video footage of her daughter getting physically assaulted, along with various investigative documents her family has retrieved. But she says that U.S. authorities aren't willing to hold anyone accountable.
"It's very disturbing because they saw the same thing we saw [on video]," Sallamondra told Yahoo News, referring to footage shared online just weeks after Robinson's death in which a blogger in North Carolina claims a woman is seen viciously attacking Robinson until her body goes limp. "Then they do an autopsy and they come back with something different. I don't even know if we can trust them."
On Oct. 28 of last year, Robinson traveled to the resort city of San José del Cabo, Mexico, with one friend and five travel mates to celebrate one of their birthdays. Less than 24 hours later she was found dead.
Initially, the people on the trip told her mother that Robinson had died of alcohol poisoning, but the family later received an autopsy report from the Mexican Secretariat of Health and learned she had suffered a broken neck and a cracked spine. No mention of alcohol was included in the report. In a death certificate obtained by Queen City News in Charlotte, Robinson's death was attributed to a "severe spinal cord injury and atlas luxation," meaning that her first vertebra was loosened or detached from the base of her skull.
Nearly a month later, the video footage of Robinson being attacked appeared on social media. Robinson’s mother recognized the other people in the video as the ones who traveled with her daughter, and she believes it was recorded on the trip to Cabo.
“I want justice because I’ve seen her being brutally beaten,” Sallamondra said. “That’s enough evidence right there.”
Mexican authorities issued an arrest warrant in the case in November for the crime of femicide, a form of gender-based violence. They also sought to extradite an American suspect to the country to face charges. But since then, no one has been held accountable.
In the absence of any arrests six months since Robinson’s death, family attorney Sue-Ann Robinson (who is not related to the family) said she and the family have taken matters into their own hands, calling the FBI’s response to the case thus far “disrespectful.”
Over the last few months, the family has sought out investigative documents from federal authorities in Mexico about the case, called on President Biden and the State Department to intervene in the case and continued to hold local demonstrations to ensure that Robinson's name and legacy is not forgotten.
Attorney Robinson said she also traveled to Mexico earlier this year for a better understanding of the lack of urgency and was informed by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office that the case is a “high priority” and they’re willing to turn it over to the U.S.; they reportedly claim, however, that the FBI has not taken any action.
“The family is in a situation where they have to carve their own path to justice in this case and have been aware of that from the beginning,” Attorney Robinson told Yahoo News. “Having to mourn your child, bury your child, bury your sister and every single day have to make sure that people don’t forget about the case, while essentially fighting with the FBI to do their job. It couldn’t be more disrespectful.”
On April 12, federal officials with the U.S. attorneys’ offices in two districts in North Carolina announced they would not bring charges in the death of Robinson based on insufficient evidence in the case.
"The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Robinson has been a priority for federal prosecutors and the FBI," a statement issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of North Carolina read in part. "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."
The FBI national and local North Carolina offices declined Yahoo News’ request to provide further comment.
As for the current state of extradition requests, the DOJ also declined to elaborate.
“The U.S. Department of Justice generally does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or non-existence of requests for apprehension from foreign governments,” Nicole Navas Oxman, a spokesperson for the department, told Yahoo News in an email.
But Attorney Robinson questions whether the case was ever a priority for U.S. officials, particularly in contrast to the federal agency's response to four Americans kidnapped in Mexico last month and its subsequent fervor to solve the case — including a $50,000 reward. She said that case alone is evidence of a protocol in such cases that isn't being followed in the Shanquella Robinson investigation.
But experts say extradition remains on the table.
The prosecutors’ decision to not file charges shouldn’t affect possible extradition, according to Stephen Ward, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Belmont Abbey College.
"When an extradition request is made, that's simply asking the jurisdiction that receives the request for the police to pick this person up and turn them over to us," Ward, a retired assistant district attorney in Mecklenburg County, told the Charlotte Observer. "We do that all the time between states here in the United States and extradite with other countries.
Donald Corbett, an associate law professor at North Carolina Central University who specializes in constitutional law, previously told Yahoo News that while he understands the Robinson family's frustration, the politics involving a transnational case like this makes it more complicated.
“Just because the extradition request is made doesn’t automatically mean that person just gets shipped overseas,” Corbett said. “They will have a federal court process here in the States in which that person has an opportunity to challenge the extradition. And then the court system here will figure out whether they think it’s a valid extradition request. This is all going to take time, and obviously when you’re dealing with grief, the time only makes the grief worse in some ways.”
Robinson's sister, Quilla Long, echoed sentiments of frustration in a GoFundMe for the family, calling the investigation "unacceptable."
“We continue to fight for the truth,” Long said.
The family and their attorneys are organizing buses to travel from Charlotte to D.C. on May 19 — the 200th day since Robinson's death — to demand the attention and diplomatic intervention they say this case deserves.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, a second family attorney, told Yahoo News last month that an intervention may be the only way to get actual movement on the case, expressing frustration that the opportunities that have been presented thus far have been thwarted.
“We have direct access to officials at the White House, and we’ve engaged one another on the matter,” Crump said, adding that the case deserves more attention because he believes a murder was committed.
Sallamondra Robinson says her faith in God allows her to hold on to hope that “justice is coming.” And she’s encouraged by supporters both near and far that continue to keep her daughter’s name alive.
“I thank everyone that stands with our family because we need all the help,” she said. “Because Shanquella didn’t have no one there to help her when she was being attacked. And she don’t have no one helping her now.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Jack Forbes; photos: family handouts