MOORE — “I can’t breathe!”
Those anguished words from Luis Rodriguez can be heard near the start of cellphone video his wife made as his cheek was mashed to the pavement of the Warren Theatre parking lot.
Rodriguez had been pepper-sprayed and was being handcuffed, an effort that included five law enforcement officer, two sets of handcuffs and several minutes.
Once cuffed, the 6-foot, 225-pound man was propped up into a seated position. He was unconscious. Paramedics noticed he had stopped breathing and took him to Moore Medical Center.
He began breathing only to stop again after undergoing an X-ray at the hospital. He died a short time later.
Details of the events leading to Rodriguez’s death early Feb. 15 were revealed in a police report obtained by The Oklahoman.
The names of the officers involved also were made public. They are Sgt. Brian Clarkston, officer Ryan Minard and officer Joseph Bradley, who are employed by the Moore Police Department, and game wardens Tyler Howser and Chad Strang. The game wardens and Clarkston were working security for the theater at the time of the incident.
An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into Rodriguez’s death is underway. It will rely on results of an autopsy, which is pending toxicology tests and could take several months.
The six-minute cellphone video recorded by Rodriguez’s wife, Nair, was made public Tuesday through the family’s attorney, Michael Brooks-Jimenez. The video starts with Luis Rodriguez already face-down in the parking lot. In it, viewers hear the panic in his wife’s voice because her husband isn’t moving.
Brooks-Jimenez said he was surprised by the lack of urgency shown by the officers and paramedics in giving medical attention to Rodriguez, 44. Rodriguez, an electrician and church volunteer, doesn’t appear to struggle throughout the video.
Brooks-Jimenez said he intends to file a lawsuit against the Moore Police Department and the Warren Theatre once he is able to see the autopsy results and medical records.
He also is trying to get a copy of the theater’s surveillance video, but so far, neither the theater nor police have made it available.
The officers first made contact with the family about 1 a.m. after a woman reported seeing a domestic assault in the theater parking lot. Nair Rodriguez says she slapped her daughter, 19-year-old Luinahi, during an argument, but the officers didn’t know who hit whom initially.
Nair Rodriguez was attempting to leave the theater, where they had been watching the movie “RoboCop,” and had started her vehicle with a remote starter. While one officer ran after her, the others focused on Luis Rodriguez.
According to a search warrant filed in Cleveland County District Court, the officers asked Rodriguez for his ID, and he refused. He told them it was a family matter and none of their business.
“Luis then took steps back and placed himself in what officers described as an aggressive stance. One officer stated it appeared that Luis was ‘squaring them off’ and getting ready to fight,” the warrant states.
Officer Minard attempted to take Rodriguez to the ground using a police maneuver. Once the officer grabbed his arm, Rodriguez swung him to the ground, the report states. That’s when the other officers stepped in to get him under control.
Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings has defended his officers and says the force used was appropriate. He also has expressed condolences to the Rodriguez family.
A memorial service was held Wednesday.
Brooks-Jimenez said the Rodriguez family is still in shock. “There was probably such an adrenaline rush when this first happened, because all of a sudden they were catapulted into the public eye, they have all these people wanting to put them on television and people wanting to ask them questions, and it doesn’t feel real! As things hopefully start to calm down a little bit, Luis’ loss is going to become more real to them. And I think, not just financially, but emotionally, it’s going to be a very, very, very difficult thing for them,” Brooks-Jimenez said.
Moore Police Department’s policy is that police can work for another employer while they are off-duty for a maximum four-hour shift on the days they work their regular assigned police duties. The secondary employment, wearing of uniforms and use of department equipment has to be approved by the police chief.