MOORE, Okla. – Three police officers have been placed on administrative leave while officials investigate the death of a man outside an Oklahoma movie theater, police said Tuesday.
Luis Rodriguez, 44, died after five law enforcement officers pepper-sprayed and handcuffed him early Saturday morning after an altercation in a theater parking lot in the central Oklahoma city of Moore, said Police Chief Jerry Stillings.
But Rodriguez's wife, Nair, and daughter, Luinahi, have said that police beat him.
A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office said the cause and manner of death are pending.
Two on-duty officers, who were already at the theater for an unrelated incident, were alerted to a possible domestic disturbance and attempted to question Rodriguez, Stillings said. They were joined by three other off-duty officers — one from the Moore police department and two game wardens — who were working security at the theater.
Stillings said Rodriguez tried to leave and "took an aggressive stance." Officers attempted to detain him, but Rodriguez continued to be uncooperative, Stillings said, and officers used pepper spray to subdue him before handcuffing him. The man's wife and daughter have said he did not resist officers.
At that point, an ambulance was called — which, Stillings said, is common in situations where force is used — and Rodriguez was taken to a nearby hospital.
It's unclear when Rodriguez died, and Stillings refused to say whether or not Rodriguez was conscious when he was handcuffed.
Stillings said there are no indications that batons or other weapons were used. Moore Police spokesman Jeremy Lewis said it's under investigation whether other force, including punching and kicking, took place.
"Mr. Rodriguez made statements that the fight was a case of domestic violence," Stillings said during a news conference. "Domestic violence is a serious situation and officers are obligated to investigate all matters of suspected domestic violence."
Nair Rodriguez told KWTV that she slapped her daughter and her husband was trying to calm her down. Nair Rodriguez said her husband bypassed the officers in order to try and stop her from driving away. She said officers then took him down and started beating him.
A message was left at one phone listing for Nair Rodriguez. Other phone numbers rang unanswered, were wrong numbers or were disconnected.
Officers confiscated a partial cellphone video that Nair Rodriguez captured of the incident and obtained a search warrant to view and make a copy of it, Stillings said. There are no plans for the police department to release the video, but Stillings said it he didn't see anything inappropriate in the video. Police have attempted to return the phone to Nair Rodriguez on Tuesday but have been unsuccessful, he said.
The three Moore officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is being investigated. The officers have been with the department between 1 1/2 years and 6 years and have had no other incidents like this one, Stillings said.
The two game wardens have not been placed on leave, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation said.
The names of the officers involved have not been released.
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