Sunday, March 29, 2009

Officer David Rodriguez Accused of Slamming 10-year-old Against His Cruiser


A rookie police officer accused of slamming a 10-year-old boy against his cruiser for skateboarding in the street has received a two-day suspension and been ordered to attend anger management classes.

"He threw him like he was a rag doll," said the boy's father, Joseph Smith, who witnessed the April 6, 2008, incident and filed a complaint the next day.

Smith says his son was left with a cut on his knee, a bruise on his chest and a fear of police.

Officer David Rodriguez, 25, declined to comment through his lawyer. But in December he told internal affairs investigator Sgt. Kelly Drum the boy never made contact with his patrol car, according to newly released records.

The Sun Sentinel is not naming the boy because of his age.

After interviewing witnesses, Drum said Rodriguez was guilty of "improper use of force" and failing to file a "use of force" police report. Drum closed his investigation on Jan. 9.

John Fry, the officer's attorney, chalked it up to a miscommunication between Rodriguez and the boy's father.

"He doesn't feel he did anything wrong," Fry said of Rodriguez, who was hired in October 2006 and earns $56,326 a year. "He pulled a kid out of the street. There were different takes on what took place."

Rodriguez was facing a battery charge, but Broward prosecutors closed the case on Nov. 17 after both parties agreed to mediation and the boy's father decided not to press charges.

Smith, 45, said he didn't want to put his son through more trauma.

According to Drum's report, the boy was skateboarding in front of his home when the officer pulled up and told him to ride in the cul de sac.

The boy told Rodriguez his father wanted him to ride near the house where he could watch him. At that point, according to the boy and his father, who was watching from inside the house, Rodriguez jumped out of his cruiser, grabbed the boy by one arm and slammed his chest against the car.

Smith said he immediately dashed outside to defend his 65-pound son, who had burst into tears.

"The cop told me, 'I'm the authority and no one tells me no,'" Smith said last week outside his Orange Park home. Smith said his son's feet were dangling in the air while Rodriguez had him pinned against the car.

Neighbor Michael Santo JimRusti, now 15, said he saw the same thing. "The cop slammed him like the kid was an adult," said JimRusti. "The cop had his arm pinned behind him."

Rodriguez told a different story.

"I put my arm on his shoulder," Rodriguez said. He said the boy told him not to touch him and pushed the officer's hand away. "So I grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him and we start walking towards my car ... and that's when, as I turned around, I saw his father coming towards me."

Rodriguez called for backup and told the boy to sit on the ground. Several officers arrived, then left after they heard what happened, Smith said.

Mitzi Clark, Smith's neighbor, described the boy as a polite child who listens to his father.

Councilman Bryan Caletka worried about the long-term impact, saying, "The kid's not going to like cops now."

Smith's son said he's not afraid of all police officers, just some. During the mediation, the officer apologized to Smith and his son, Fry said.

"He told them, 'I'm sorry if you feel this way. ... I was looking to look out for your son,'" Fry said.

But in Smith's eyes, Rodriguez never gave a true apology.

"He said he was sorry I took it that way. He never apologized," Smith said. "He knew he was wrong. You don't do that to a kid."

Sgt. Andrew Gallegos Could Face Charges in Woman's Death

The attorney for an Albuquerque police officer accused of driving over and killing a woman in the parking lot of a bar last year questions whether any crime was committed.

Prosecutors and the defense were both presenting testimony Monday morning in a hearing to determine whether there is probable cause for Sgt. Andrew Gallegos to stand trial for the death of 47-year-old Vera Haskell.

Officials contend that Gallegos was at Sidewinders bar on east Central Avenue in April of last year.

They say security video of the bar’s parking lot show Gallegos getting into his pickup truck and backing over the prone body of Haskell twice.

Investigators say the video shows Haskell’s body being dragged beneath the truck’s right front tire. She died of multiple internal injuries and almost all of her ribs were fractured.

Gallegos’ defense says investigators never positively identified the person driving the truck and that Haskell’s blood-alcohol level was nearly fatal.

“Is there a reason to believe that a crime was actually committed?” asked attorney Sam Bregman. “This person didn’t get hit by a car and go down. This person was at 0.436, highly intoxicated, lying underneath the truck.”

Gallegos has never been formally charged and wasn’t arrested until last December – eight months after the death.

Gallegos has said that he was at a party the night Haskell was killed and blacked out.

The probable cause hearing is expected to continue through Tuesday.