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Feds Won't Prosecute Shanquella Robinson's Death

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By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

The U.S. Department of Justice has decided not to bring federal charges in connection with the death of Shanquella Robinson, a 25-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina entrepreneur.

On October 28, 2022, Ms. Robinson and six of her friends went to a vacation villa in San José del Cabo, Mexico. The next day, Ms. Robinson died. On October 30, her six travel mates returned to the U.S. with her baggage and told Robinson's mother that she had died of alcohol poisoning. That much is clear.

But little else is. Below, we discuss the Robinson death., as well as the media reports and contradictory evidence surrounding it, and you can decide for yourself if you agree with the U.S. government's decision not to prosecute the case.

What Happened?

By all reports, Shanquella Robinson was a bright, ambitious young woman who had started her own business braiding children's hair. She and some college friends decided to take a trip to Cabo San Lucas, and rented a vacation villa there. When she last spoke with her mother on the Friday that she left for the trip, she seemed "pretty happy."

The Doctor Arrives

The police report of the incident included a detailed interview with the villa's concierge, who was present at the scene of Robinson's death. According to the report, someone at the villa called for a doctor on the afternoon of October 29. When the doctor arrived at the scene, she found Robinson with stable vital signs, but she was dehydrated and uncommunicative. Her friends told the doctor that she had drunk a lot of alcohol.

The doctor wanted to take Robinson to a hospital, but her friends insisted that she be treated at the villa after finding out how much a hospital would cost. The doctor thus tried to start an IV line, but before she could do so, Robinson had a seizure. At that point, her friends called for an ambulance.

At 4:49 p.m., the doctor could no longer find a pulse. She and one of Robinson's friends began CPR. When paramedics arrived, they administered more rounds of CPR and adrenaline without success. Their attempts to restart her heart with a defibrillator failed, and she was pronounced dead at 5:57 p.m.

Her Friends Leave Mexico

According to the police interview with the villa's concierge, at around 9:30 pm on the night of the incident, Robinson's friends asked the concierge to arrange for a car to take them to the city center so that they could get something to eat. They did not come back that night. The next morning, the concierge got a call from the maid, asking if the group had given notice that they would be leaving—because there was no one in the villa. The concierge had not been notified of the group's departure; the group had only previously requested transportation. The driver of the car later reported that he had dropped them off at an airport hotel. The concierge sent the group a text, to which they did not respond until the following morning, informing the villa that they had already returned to the United States.

The Death Certificate

A copy of Shanquella Robinson's death certificate reportedly listed the cause of death as "severe spinal cord injury and atlas luxation." The latter, also known as "internal decapitation," is essentially a separation of the base of the skull from the spinal column, which usually results in immediate death.

Robinson's death, however, was classified as "accidental or violent," and the approximate time between injury and death was 15 minutes. The autopsy did not mention alcohol poisoning.

The Video

A month after the incident, a video made the rounds on social media, showing someone throwing Robinson to the ground and then savagely kicking and hitting her all over her head and body. A man nearby is heard saying, "'Quella, can you at least fight back?" It remains unclear when the trending video was filmed.

Mexico and the U.S. Investigate Robinson's Death

Back in November of last year, Baja California Sur State Prosecutor, Daniel de la Rosa, told reporters that Robinson's death resulted from "direct aggression," and that an arrest warrant had been issued for the crime of femicide (the killing of a woman or female because of her gender or sex). The FBI then opened a federal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Robinson's death. Mexican prosecutors said that they were consulting with federal government officials in both countries about an extradition request.

In early March of 2023, the Capitol held a news conference attended by the family and their attorneys: civil rights lawyer Ben Crump and attorney Sue-Ann Robinson (no relation to the family). They urged the Biden Administration, the State Department, and the Department of Justice to prioritize bringing Shanquella's killer(s) to justice.

Once Robinson's body had been embalmed and transported back to the United States, another autopsy was performed by the Mecklenburg County (NC) coroner. According to U.S. officials, the autopsy revealed some swelling on the brain, but no spinal cord injury. No specific cause of death could be determined. Federal prosecutors in North Carolina and the FBI told Robinson's family that after a "detailed and thorough" investigation of the available evidence, it was declining to press any charges at this time.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

Even though Robinson's death occurred in Mexico, the U.S. government has the power to investigate and prosecute a crime between American citizens if the murder involved federal law enforcement agencies or "interstate commerce"—the latter of which is a bit of a misnomer, as it also encompasses inter-country commerce.

You may be wondering what connection Ms. Robinson's death may have had to interstate commerce. While she was last alive in Mexico and died there, her luggage is the hook. Ms. Robinson's luggage is arguably evidence, which her travel mates transported from Mexico to the U.S. the day after her death.

There is also the matter of cell phones. Ms. Robinson's travel mates brought their phones with them on their trip, and then back to the U.S. These phones may contain pictures, videos, texts, and other messages. All of this may be evidence relating to the crime that is connected to interstate commerce.

Will Justice Be Done in Shanquella's Death?

Mexican authorities say that Robinson died of a broken neck, and they seek to prosecute one of her travel mates for femicide. On the other hand, U.S. authorities say they cannot determine how Robinson died. Thus, the U.S. Feds have chosen not to prosecute anyone at this time, nor have they said whether they are willing to extradite whoever Mexico wants to prosecute.

Where's the justice for Shanquella? It may lie in the Mexican courts—if the U.S. doesn't stand in the way.

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