5 OKC officers charged
Five Oklahoma City police officers were charged Wednesday with first-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old robbery suspect last November.
Bethany Sears, 30, Jared Barton, 33, Corey Adams, 28, Jonathan Skuta, 34, and Brad Pemberton, 31, remain on paid administrative leave.
The suspect, Stavian Rodriguez, was shot around 7 p.m. Nov. 23 after he had dropped a gun outside Okie Gas Express, 7917 S Western Ave. An autopsy found he had been hit by gunfire 13 times, according to affidavits filed with the charge.
Police in November said Rodriguez was shot when he did not follow officers' commands after climbing out of the drive-through window, holding a pistol.
The surveillance video, however, shows he was not holding his gun when he exited the window and later placed it on the ground before police started firing.
The shooting led to protests last year and a $175,000 negligence claim against the city. "How many more?" one protester wrote on a sign held outside a police station Dec. 12.
“No one should be executed because they made 'furtive movements'. Our systems are broken and need to be re-imagined and need rebuilding," Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon wrote on Twitter last year.
The charge in Oklahoma County District Court comes a day after jury selection began in Minnesota at the trial for a former police officer accused in the death of George Floyd. That tragedy led to a renewed focus nationwide on police brutality and the role of law enforcement in society.
District Attorney David Prater filed the charge after an extensive review of police body camera videos and a security camera video. The prosecutor released all those videos Wednesday.
Police also released the body camera videos Wednesday but not the security camera video.
Not charged was Sgt. Sarah Carli, who fired a less lethal weapon, police said.
The videos show a number of officers yelling commands at the same time as Rodriguez comes out the window.
"Show us your hands, sir," one officer said. "Nobody has to get hurt. Just show us your hands."
Rodriguez can be seen lifting his shirt, taking the gun out of his waistband with the fingers of his left hand and holding it out by its extended magazine. "Oh, don't do that," one officer said. Rodriguez keeps his right hand up as he bends forward and drops the gun from his fingers.
He then can be seen lowering his right hand and reaching with his left hand toward a back pocket as he is being told to get down.
A dozen or so shots can be heard on the videos. Afterward, Rodriguez can be heard moaning.
He died after being taken to a hospital, police said in November.
The police sergeant, Carli, fired first, striking Rodriguez with "a 40mm less lethal round," a DA investigator reported in the affidavits.
The other officers then "all unnecessarily fire lethal rounds at Stavian Rodriguez, striking him numerous times and inflicting mortal wounds," the investigator wrote. "Stavian Rodriguez had no weapons other than the firearm, which he dropped prior to being shot. A cellphone was recovered from the left rear pocket he had his hand in at the time he was shot."
The Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police spoke out Wednesday in support of the officers.
“Officers must make life and death decisions in a split second, relying on their training," said John George, the FOP president.
"When an armed robbery suspect did not obey police commands, five officers perceived the same threat and simultaneously fired their weapons. A loss of life is always a tragedy and we know these officers did not take firing their weapons lightly. The OKC FOP stands by these officers and maintains they acted within the law.”
The officers' attorney, Kyle Sweet, said, “We are proud to represent these officers and, with respect to the tragic loss of life, we strongly believe their use of force was justified, and we are ready to make that argument in a court of law.”
If convicted, the officers face at least four years in prison and could be sentenced to life. All have under six years of experience on the Oklahoma City Police Department, police said.
The Rodriguez family had no immediate comment Wednesday. In a lawsuit last month seeking release of the body camera videos, the family's attorney, Rand Eddy, described what police did as like a firing squad.
The attorney also accused police of misleading the public about the shooting.
"Numerous eyewitnesses who were present to observe the scene responded with screams and expressions of shock, terror and outrage," the attorney wrote.
The charge is the second time in two weeks an Oklahoma City police officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter after a fatal shooting.
Sgt. Clifford Holman was charged for shooting a fleeing mentally ill man in the back Dec. 11. The victim in that case was armed with a knife.
Police reported Rodriguez went into the store twice Nov. 23 demanding money from the clerk at gunpoint. The second time the clerk, Mostafizur Khan, "immediately exits the store through the drive through window, locks the front door from the outside and flags down a customer who in turn calls 911," a homicide detective wrote in a court affidavit.
Police reported the first time Rodriguez had an accomplice who loaded multiple packs of cigarettes into a backpack. Police reported Rodriguez the first time also loaded multiple packs of cigarettes into a backpack.
Police reported the accomplice has been identified as Wyatt Allen Cheatham, 17, of Oklahoma City.
Cheatham was charged in December with first-degree murder. A longstanding Oklahoma law allows such a charge against an accomplice when a robber is killed in the act even by police.
Wyatt confessed to planning and committing the robbery when he was arrested in December, police said,
"Wyatt told detectives as he and Stavian fled the scene, they stopped in the parking lot located just west of the convenience store," police reported in an affidavit. "Stavian handed his backpack filled with the stolen items to Wyatt and said he was going back because he had dropped something. Wyatt lingered in the area waiting on Stavian until seeing police officers arrive at which point he ran to a nearby apartment."