Five police officers indicted on murder charges for 2019 asphyxiation death of man after music festival

Fernando Rodriguez, 24, was Tasered 15 times and officers knelt on his neck, arms, and back to restrain him

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Monday 22 November 2021 14:57
Bodycam footage shows Georgia police officers stunning and restraining Fernando Rodriguez

Five police officers have been indicted on murder charges in the death by asphyxiation of a man following a music festival in Hampton, Georgia.

Fernando Rodriguez, 24, was found walking naked along a road after attending the Imagine Music Festival at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on 20 September 2019. A 911 caller alerted police to his presence on the road.

When the officers confronted Mr Rodriguez he was confused and uncooperative but not combative, body-cam video of the incident revealed.

After yelling at him to stop walking, Mr Rodriguez was Tasered by officers, causing him to fall onto his back. The officers then forced him onto his front, and knelt on his arms, neck, and back to restrain him. The man was Tasered a total of 15 times.

According to an earlier wrongful death suit filed by his family, when paramedics arrived at the scene, they noted that Mr Rodriguez was unresponsive, not breathing, and pulseless.

He was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where doctors found he was suffering from respiratory failure, renal failure, anoxic brain injury, cardiac arrest, and acute blood loss anaemia.

Mr Rodriguez died at the hospital two days later. The state medical examiner subsequently ruled his death was homicide by asphyxiation.

The five officers were indicted by a grand jury on one count each of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault.

They are Henry County police officers Robert Butera and Quinton Phillips, and Hampton police officers Marcus Stroud, Gregory Bowlden, and Mason Lewis. The officers were also each charged with one count of violation of their oath of office.

Prosecutors say the officers violated their oath “by stretching Rodriguez out on the ground in a prone position while he was handcuffed and shackled, holding him down and applying pressure to his body” – by reportedly kneeling on top of him.

Mr Stroud resigned from the Hampton police department on 16 October 2019, and Mr Bowlden and Mr Lewis followed on 5 August, 2021,  according to Hampton City Manager Alex Cohilas.

It is not clear if the county police officers are still employed.

The District Attorney’s office said arrest warrants would likely be issued next week.

Attorney Page Pate, who is representing Mr Rodriguez’s family, said in a statement on Saturday that they were pleased with the indictment.

“Fernando’s family has been patiently waiting for justice in this case and they are very glad to see that the process is now moving forward,” he said. “We are especially grateful that the officers have all been charged with murder and we think the charges fit the crime.”

Mr Rodriguez’s family has accepted a $3million settlement from the Hampton Police Department. The family is still pursuing legal action against the Henry County Police Department.

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