The 11th-hour phone call to the prosecution could have been something out of a procedural legal drama.
Several hours after former Long Beach Police Detective Yvonne Robinson denied in court on Tuesday that she leaked confidential information to a gang member, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office says it received information from a detective who is willing to testify that Robinson had a sexual relationship with the gang member also charged in the case.
“The way this information came to light is so strange,” Robinson’s attorney Case Barnett said in court on Wednesday morning.
The previous day, Barnett had wrapped up questioning his client on the stand before a jury, but the DA’s subsequent revelation left Barnett flabbergasted in court.
“It changes everything,” he said before a judge denied his motion for a mistrial.
Robinson, 50, is facing an obstruction of justice charge for allegedly leaking confidential information to the Baby Insane Crip street gang. She was arrested in 2013.
Prosecutors also charged Prentice Jones—the man she’s now accused of having a sexual relationship with—who they say is a high-ranking member of the Baby Insane Crips and used Robinson’s information to help the gang stay ahead of multiple police investigations, including the 2009 murder of Frank Castro Jr. and a separate gang beatdown of a police informant.
Over the last few days, jurors in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom listened to testimony from Long Beach police officers and a former gang member. Prosecutors played recorded wiretap calls where Jones talked about “the copy lady” and his “inside connect” at the Long Beach Police Department.
Robinson, a 13-year veteran with the Long Beach Police Department, was the leak, according to the prosecution. As a Long Beach native, Robinson was an asset to the police department because she grew up surrounded by the local gang culture according to her testimony in court. She even helped form the department’s gang detail, which is why she joined the police department.
“I grew up in Long Beach. I knew the needs of Long Beach,” Robinson said in court.
Now, that familiarity with the community has become a liability in her criminal case as the prosecution paints Robinson as someone who was too familiar with the local gang culture.
Later this week, the prosecution will call Long Beach Detective Satwan Johnson to testify about the time Robinson showed him a photo of Jones on her phone. Deputy District Attorney Arisa Mattson said in court that Johnson now alleges Robinson and Jones were “sleeping together” sometime in 2008.
Mattson revealed the bombshell accusation on Wednesday morning, just before she was set to cross-examine Robinson.
According to Mattson, Johnson saw Jones’ picture on Robinson’s phone several years ago, but didn’t know the man’s name. It wasn’t until 2019 when Johnson went to a local juice bar that he ran into an old high school friend who was with Jones and another member of the Baby Insane Crip gang.
That’s when Johnson put two-and-two together according to Mattson. She plans to question Robinson about any alleged relationship she had with Jones.
In court, Barnett called the whole revelation highly suspicious. “It defies logic that he puts all that together several years later,” said Barnett, as he moved for a mistrial.
Judge Lisa Lench denied the motion and excused the jury for the day. Court will resume on Friday morning.
“The lengths and depths that the Long Beach Police Department are willing to go to destroy the reputation and the good name of Yvonne Robinson is extreme, but not surprising,” Barnett said when reached by phone.
Johnson was subpoenaed as a defense witness because he worked with Robinson on a call that could have been brought up by the prosecution, according to Barnett. He said the fact that Johnson was sitting on this “salacious and explosive” information about Robinson is a last-minute grasp by the Long Beach Police Department.
“There’s nothing about this anywhere. He just happens to call the district attorney at seven o’clock,” said Barnett. “It’s absurd.”
For years, Robinson was a constant fixture in the Long Beach community.
As a juvenile investigation detective, Robinson was approached by alleged gang members who wanted help getting removed from a civil gang injunction, she testified.
Sometime in 2012, Robinson said, Jones approached her at an event where he was rapping. Around that time, the Long Beach Police Department encouraged community members to contact the department with the names of people who could be removed from the civil gang injunction.
Robinson passed along Jones’ name to Detective Chris Zamora with the Long Beach Police Department in an email to see if he could be removed from the injunction. Robinson said she wasn’t aware that Jones was a target in ongoing police surveillance. In a wiretapped call, Jones explained to Donovan Halcomb, another member of the Baby Insane Crips, that police knew the names of the suspects in the Frank Castro Jr. murder investigation and were looking for witnesses. Prosecutors say that Robinson is the one who passed that information along to Jones.
Police released several composite sketches of the suspects in the murder investigation. Detectives knew the names of the suspects but wanted to see if the sketches would spur any conversation on the wiretap in 2012. It’s on that wiretap that detectives were first alerted to the possibility that there might be a leak in the department, with Jones telling another gang member about his “inside connect” at the LBPD.
On Tuesday, Robinson testified her sister married Jones’ brother while he was in prison, but the two were not close relatives. Robinson said she ran into Jones at a relative’s home and he asked her whether the suspects in the murder case should turn themselves in.
They should, Robinson told him. Maybe the police would go easy on the accomplices in the case, she added.
“But the shooters are the shooters. They’re going to get convicted,” Robinson told Jones. In another investigation, Jones was a suspect in a gang beatdown.
Detectives suspected Robinson was the leak and wanted to see if she would tell Jones he was a suspect in that case. Officer Brad Scavone testified in court that he wrote a report on the assault and called Robinson to let her know that a witness she interviewed several years ago was named in the case. Detectives omitted information from the report, which they hoped would pop up on the wiretap calls if Robinson was feeding information to the gang.
Sometime after she read the report, Robinson met Jones again in Long Beach. Jones’ hand was swollen. She asked him if he was in a fight and Jones said it was from a “one-on-one fight” but didn’t mention it was gang-related. He said he fought with someone who cooperated with police, testified Robinson.
“He said he had a police report that showed him that the person cooperated with police, but I didn’t believe him,” Robinson testified. She added, “Either (Jones) was a liar or that’s just what it was.”
Robinson denied giving Jones any information about ongoing investigations. Her defense in court was that she did not have any access to information about murder investigations, which she’s accused of disclosing to Jones.
Robinson’s life in Long Beach, her upbringing and even her marriage to her late husband have all been scrutinized by the prosecution.
On Tuesday, after the jury was excused for the day, Mattson said she planned to ask Robinson about her late husband’s murder.
Deon Robinson was shot and killed in 2017 while walking down the street in Long Beach. Mattson said the shooting was gang-related.
“I’m having a hard time finding a connection,” said Lench.
“It’s highly relevant that Deon Robinson was killed in a gang shooting,” said Mattson. She added she wanted to be sensitive in bringing up his murder but said it would drive home the fact that Robinson should have known that Jones was an active gang member.
Deon Robinson attended a gang funeral in 2011, said Mattson, while wearing gang attire. He also drove Yvonne’s city vehicle, according to surveillance by police at the funeral.
Barnett said the prosecution was trying to throw “a gang umbrella” over Yvonne Robinson.
“She was married to a gang member,” Mattson said.
“Who was in a gang in the 1990s and in the 2000s, we don’t know,” said Lench. “Pardon me if I’m skeptical of a police officer’s opinion that someone is dressed as a gang member.”
Mattson was told that she wouldn’t be allowed to delve into Yvonne Robinson’s personal life. Several hours later, Mattson said she spoke to Johnson about her alleged relationship with Jones.
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