Desmond Robinson was a 31-year-old undercover New York City cop on Aug. 22, 1994, when he was in pursuit of two armed teen suspects in a subway station beneath Manhattan. When another cop, Peter Del-Debbio, saw a Black man with gun drawn running along a subway platform, Del-Debbio shot him four times in the back. The Black man was Robinson, who survived.
The shooting was an explosive example of the sort of racially-charged incidents that have been drawing more attention in recent years. The cop who shot Robinson, who is white, was convicted of second-degree assault, which spared him prison time. He’d initially been charged with first-degree assault, which carried a prison term. He’d visited Robinson at his bedside in a meeting then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani described as a reconciliation.
Robinson retired on medical disability after the shooting. He moved to Palm Coast some 16 years ago and stayed involved in support of fellow-officers. He was at European Village four years ago as part of a big fund-raising event for the families of five officers shot by a sniper that July in Dallas. “It’s good to see that in Palm Coast we have such an outpouring,” he told the News-Journal at the time. “On a Monday night, to have this turnout is a wonderful thing. Supporting either New Orleans, Dallas or anybody. Just being pro-police, because we’re not getting that.”
“I know from both sides, so I can speak loud and clear on the fact of getting shot by a cop when he (messes) up,” Robinson continued. “If you look at all these shootings, 99 percent of them are criminals who got stopped and resisted and got shot. There is that 1 percent where the cop (messed) up. There is no doubt about that. But 99 percent of the time, it’s a criminal getting stopped, resisting arrest and getting killed. I did nothing wrong; (Del-Debbio messed) up. So when I say that 1 percent, I know that 1 percent. I was working.”
Just before 2:30 Thursday morning, the 911 center got a report of a motorcycle down on Frontier Drive in Palm Coast. Robinson had been driving the bike. He had severe head injuries (he’d not been wearing a helmet), and was ground-transported by ambulance to Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach. (A Daily news report that he was airlifted is incorrect, according to 911 notes.) He died later that day. An obituary in the Retired Transit Police Officer’s Association states he “suffered a heart attack and was resuscitated successfully 5 times before all life saving measures failed.” He had three children.
“I was truly saddened to hear of Desmond’s sudden passing,” said Mark Woods, the Palm Coast business owner and long-time bartender at the Humidor at European Village. “I didn’t know him well, but I knew him well enough to know was thoughtful, compassionate, a good listener, and fiercely committed to his daughter. Desmond was soft spoken and not prone to bragging. With all the times we spoke over a cigar or a glass of wine, I learned of his “fame” as a transit cop only after his passing. He was one of the good guys and I will miss him.”