MOORE — A moviegoer died in February because physical restraint by police brought on a heart condition know as cardiac arrhythmia, the state medical examiner reported Wednesday.
The Feb. 15 death of Luis Rodriguez, 44, was ruled a homicide due to the physical struggle and police restraint associated. The medical examiner cautioned that the ruling of homicide doesn’t imply wrongdoing or criminal intent.
Rodriguez died following a scuffle with five law enforcement officers in the parking lot at the Warren Theatre. The officers used pepper spray and handcuffs to subdue him.
The report by the medical examiner determined his death was caused by “cardiac arrhythmia due to physical restraint.” An arrhythmia is an irregular heart beat. Contributing factors were an enlarged heart and left ventricular hypertrophy.
No drugs or alcohol were found in Rodriguez’s blood, the report states. Bruises and minor injuries were found — evidence of the struggle — but those injuries were not sufficient to cause Rodriguez’s death, the examiner found.
Cellphone video taken by Rodriguez’s wife documented some of the incident. The six-minute video, which was made public, starts with Luis Rodriguez seen face-down in the parking lot crying out “I can’t breathe!” He had an officer’s knee on his back and other officers holding his arms and legs.
Video not released
Three Moore Police Department officers and two off-duty game wardens were involved. The game wardens and one of the officers were working security for the theater. Surveillance video from the theater’s parking lot has not been released.
Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings has said he believes the officers acted appropriately. An agency spokesman Wednesday released a statement saying the department has reviewed the autopsy report.
“From our understanding, prior health conditions coupled with the struggle with officers led to the death of Mr. Rodriguez,” the statement reads. “The medical examiner’s report indicates minimal physical trauma to Mr. Rodriguez, which commonly occurs when an individual physically resists.”
An attorney representing the Rodriguez family championed the medical examiner’s ruling.
“We were confident all along that this was a homicide. Today, the Oklahoma medical examiner’s office has confirmed this. We are in the process of reviewing the report. We ask that you please respect the family and allow them the opportunity to accept this news in peace,” Michael Brooks-Jimenez said in a written statement.
Police approached Rodriguez and his family outside the theater after a patron reported a domestic assault. Nair Rodriguez, his wife, said she slapped her 19-year-old daughter during an argument.
When officers asked Luis Rodriguez for identification, he refused and took “an aggressive stance,” police said. That’s when the officers attempted to handcuff and detain him.
Luis Rodriguez, of Norman, was 6 feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, according to the autopsy report.
He was taken by ambulance to Moore Medical Center, where he died. Medical records show he suffered a heart attack and evidence of medical treatment, such as needle punctures and catheters, were detailed in the medical examiner’s report.
An inquiry by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is continuing.