By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Luis Rodriguez’s death earlier this year in Moore has been ruled a homicide, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. It’s a determination the Rodriguez family saw coming.
“We weren’t sure of the exact cause, but we were sure it was a homicide,” said Michael Brooks-Jime’nez, the Rodriguez family lawyer. “We were certain that he died due to outside forces, that this was an unnatural death.”
However, the designation of homicide has a different meaning when used in medical terms compared to legal terminology.
According to the National Association of Medical Examiners’ guidelines, the manner of death is best certified as homicide due to the death occurring in association with physical struggle and during attempted restraint by law enforcement.
“In alignment with death certification guidelines by the National Association of Medical Examiners, we classified this death as a homicide,” said Amy Elliot of the Medical Examiner’s officer. “Homicide is a medical term that does not denote wrongdoing or criminal intent.”
Rodriguez, 44, died Feb. 15 after an altercation with three members of the Moore Police Department and two off-duty Oklahoma game wardens working private security at the Warren Theatre.
Rodriguez’s wife, Nair, and his 19-year-old daughter witnessed the episode and have said the police and security officers caused Luis Rodriguez’s death.
“My client and I all along were confident this was a homicide,” Brooks-Jime’nez said. “We are encouraged that the medical examiners office has confirmed it. At this point, we’re reviewing the medical findings.”
Part of the altercation was caught on video by Nair Rodriguez’s cell phone. When it picks up, it shows Luis Rodriguez being held down on the ground by the five men, including one of the officers putting a knee to the back of his neck as he lays on the concrete.
“Review of the available video footage shows the decedent on the ground with pressure applied to his back for less than two minutes,” the ME report stated.
Later, Rodriguez’s limp body is propped up as officers wait for emergency vehicles to arrive.
“Luis Rodriguez died as a result of a cardiac arrhythmia due to physical restraint in the setting of cardiomegaly (enlarged heart) with left ventricular hypertrophy,” Elliot said. “Postmortem examination revealed evidence of a physical struggle. However, the noted injuries and associated hemorrhages are not sufficient by themselves to cause the decedent’s death.”
According to the ME’s report, no drugs or alcohol were found in Rodriguez’s system, but he was diagnosed with pulmonary edema and congestion with intra-alveolar hemorrhage.
Scalp contusions and abrasions on the right forearm, hands, abdomen and knees also were found on Rodriguez.
“From our understanding, prior health conditions — coupled with the struggle with officers — led to the death of Mr. Rodriguez,” Sgt. Jeremy Lewis of the MPD said. “The medical examiner’s report indicates minimal physical trauma to Mr. Rodriguez, which commonly occurs when an individual physically resists.”
Rodriguez’s death is under investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of investigation. The members of the MPD involved are on paid administration leave, Lewis said.
“The investigative portion of this case by the OSBI is still ongoing and upon completion, will be presented to the Cleveland County District Attorney for review,” Lewis said. “As the investigation is still ongoing, we are unable to answer any questions at this time.”
With the release of the autopsy, Brooks-Jime’nez is waiting to view the Warren Theatre security film from the night in question. The MPD collected the security video from the theater during its initial investigation, but when they turned the investigation over to the OSBI, they gave them the video, also.
“At this point, the next step is to get the Warren Theatre video,” Brooks-Jime’nez said, “to be able to put all the pieces together, to be able to see exactly what happened that night. There’s objective evidence out there, and with that objective evidence, we’ll all know what happened.”
Since then, the MPD and OSBI have not allowed the Rodriguez family to see any portion of the security video, Brooks-Jime’nez said.
Brooks-Jime’nez said the OSBI want to take a statement from Nair Rodriguez, but he would like to view the security video first.
“Both of those things have to be accomplished,” Brooks-Jime’nez said. “We want to have a copy of the video in time to review it. The police department, in the beginning, said their officers did nothing wrong. I don’t think the medical examiner’s report is consistent with that. If they have a copy of the Warren Theatre video, they should release it.”