UPDATE, July 25, 12:40 p.m.: On July 24, the county agreed to settle the lawsuit brought by Edwin Rodriguez's family for $1 million, according to Jorge González, an attorney for the family. The settlement must be approved by the County Board of Supervisors. “Now it puts the onus on the district attorney’s office whether or not to prosecute,” Gonzalez says. (This story was first published on July 20.)
A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy fired numerous shots at close range at a suspect who lay unarmed, face down and wounded, according to a motion for summary judgment filed in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the victim’s family.
In October L.A. Weekly published a cover story about the killing of 24-year-old Edwin Rodríguez, who was shot by deputies in East L.A. Filed on July 10 in L.A. District Court, the motion reveals new details about the case and alleges that one of the deputies, Andrew Alatorre, fired as many as 14 shots at Rodríguez.
According to Jorge González, attorney for the Rodríguez family, the new details in the court filing were taken from the depositions of seven deputies and a sergeant who were present at the scene at the time of the shooting.
Attorneys for the county and the two deputies named in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Greg Risling, a spokesman for County District Attorney Jackie Lacey's Office, says the 17-month-old shooting is still under review.
Rodríguez was killed during a traffic stop in the early morning of Feb. 14, 2016. According to a statement from the Sheriff's Department after the shooting, deputies initially observed the van in which Rodríguez was a passenger parked in a supermarket lot near a stripped vehicle. The lot was known to deputies as a place where stolen cars are abandoned, and the car was later found to have been stolen.
At the time of Rodríguez's death, he had a 3-year-old son and was living with his long-term girlfriend and helping to raise her 6-year-old daughter, according to his mother, Estela Rodriguez.
Rodríguez worked until 2 a.m. that night at a convenience store near his parents' house in East L.A. After work, he hung out with a co-worker at the co-worker's apartment near the parking lot. Rodríguez was then getting a ride home from his friends, siblings Diane and Peter Martínez; none of them had anything to do with the car theft, and, according to the court motion, the deputies never saw anyone from the van near the stripped vehicle. But when the van pulled out of the lot, the deputies followed and signaled for the driver to pull over at the southwest corner of Fetterly Avenue and Whittier Boulevard.
The lawsuit alleges the two sheriff's deputies approached the van with their guns drawn and ordered Diane Martinez, who was driving, and Rodríguez to step out of the van; Martinez complied but Rodríguez protested, arguing he wasn’t driving and hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Obviously he resisted, because my son knew his rights and they had no reason to force him out,” Estela Rodríguez told the Weekly in an interview last year. “The car wasn’t stolen and they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
According to the motion, Deputy Sandy Galdamez radioed for backup, and Deputy Alatorre was one of six deputies and a sergeant with the East Los Angeles station who responded. When Alatorre, Galdamez and three or four additional deputies began forcibly removing Rodríguez from the van, a handgun fell from the passenger-seat area to the pavement, the motion states. One deputy secured the gun by placing his foot over it. Another deputy said he observed the gun in Rodríguez’s waistband before it fell, but the motion later states that none of the deputies at the scene reported seeing a gun in Rodríguez’s possession.
The struggle between the deputies and Rodríguez continued, and they moved with him as a group from the sidewalk in front of the van to the middle of the street. "During that struggle," the motion states, "several deputies were in close physical proximity to Edwin Rodriguez, were actively trying to control him by grabbing at his arms, and were striking and pummeling him repeatedly, causing him to raise his arms in self-defense to thwart the blows."
According to deputies' testimony cited in the motion, Galdamez feared Rodríguez was armed and going to shoot, and she "exhorted" the deputies to fire. She and Alatorre shot Rodríguez from a few feet away, and Rodríguez fell face down in the street. Alatorre then approached and ordered Rodríguez in a loud voice to show his hands, and when Rodríguez did not respond, Alatorre fired as many as 14 shots, "emptying his magazine and reloading with a fully loaded magazine," the motion states.
In their depositions, Alatorre and the other deputies testified that Rodríguez’s hands were tucked underneath his body and therefore were not visible at the time of the second volley of shots — a claim González says is refuted by photographs taken of the body at the scene that show Rodríguez's hands were outstretched above his head.
“In the second volley, Alatorre shot an unarmed person lying face down on the ground already mortally wounded, which we call an execution,” González says.
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Rodríguez's autopsy found 17 gunshot wounds on his body, including 10 shots that entered in the back.
The lawsuit states that Galdamez fired four rounds and Alatorre 15. It also states the Sheriff's Department failed to conduct an internal affairs investigation to determine if the force used by the deputies was reasonable and within policy.
As the Weekly reported in October, Deputy Alatorre was a defendant in a separate wrongful death lawsuit for the killing of Salvador Palencia during a suicide call at a Maywood duplex in 2014. According to that lawsuit, Palencia was holding a shiny, metal object he had taken from the kitchen sink, which Alatorre misidentified as a knife; the deputy fired, and investigators later found the object was a cake spatula.
A spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department told the Weekly in October that Alatorre had been reassigned to administrative duties in the East Los Angeles station.