5 Georgia Police Officers Charged with Murder in Asphyxiation Death of 24-Year-Old Festivalgoer

One of the officers who allegedly Tased Fernando Rodriguez at least 15 times and killed him after kneeling on him for 10 minutes had threatened to kick him in the teeth, bodycam footage shows

Fernando Rodriguez
Fernando Rodriguez.

Five police officers in Georgia have been indicted on charges including murder for allegedly killing a 24-year-old naked festivalgoer after Tasing him repeatedly and suffocating him in 2019, the Henry County District Attorney's Office announced Friday.

On Sept. 23, 2019, Fernando Rodriguez died of asphyxiation after officers three days earlier allegedly "held him down on the ground while he was handcuffed and shackled, applying pressure to his body, near the Atlanta Motor Speedway," Henry County Assistant District Attorney Megan Matteucci said in a release.

On Friday, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Henry County police officers Robert Butera and Quinton Phillips, and Hampton police officers Mason Lewis, Marcus Stroud and Gregory Bowlden each with one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, and one count of aggravated assault.

Each officer is also charged with one count of violation of oath of office "for violating their oaths as law enforcement officers 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," Matteucci says in the release.

On Sept. 20, 2019, Rodriguez was leaving the Imagine Music Festival at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton when officers responded to a 911 call about a man walking naked in the middle of the street and confronted him, the release says.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the officers ordered Rodriguez to stop, but he kept going.

Body camera footage shows one of the officers aiming the stun gun at Rodriguez's back when he walked away, NBC News reports.

The officers ordered Rodriguez to roll over and when he failed to do so, they Tased him again, the Journal-Constitution reports.

"I just didn't want to have to beat the boy to death," one of the officers is heard saying, NBC News reports.

One of the officers can be heard threatening to kick Rodriguez's teeth while he lay on the ground, according to the footage, NBC News reports.

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As Rodriguez lay moaning on the ground, multiple officers knelt on Rodriguez's arms, neck and back to restrain him for almost 10 minutes while they waited for an ambulance to arrive, the Journal-Constitution, NBC News, and the New York Daily News report.

"In addition to holding his naked body down on the ground, the officers struck Rodriguez more than a dozen times with their Tasers," the release says.

One of the officers allegedly said Rodriguez had stopped breathing, the footage shows, the Journal-Constitution reports.

He was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he died three days later.

The death was investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The grand jury issued the indictment Friday after 5 p.m. following two days of testimony from witnesses.

Warrants for the officers' arrests were issued Monday, the Henry Herald reports.

Each officer has a $100,000 bond and must turn themselves in by 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Herald reports.

In May, Rodriguez's family filed a federal wrongful death suit against the officers as well as the city of Hampton and Henry County, alleging that the officers should have given Rodriguez medical help instead of restraining him and Tasing him, NBC News reports.

One of the officers allegedly called Rodriguez a "sweaty little hog" during the confrontation, the footage shows, NBC News reports.

The "officers failed to render aid and continued to pin Fernando to the ground" for nearly four minutes after he became "totally unresponsive," the complaint alleges, NBC News reports.

It says Rodriguez was "noncombative" throughout the confrontation.

In July, the family reached a settlement against the Hampton Police Department for $3 million, NBC News reports.

"Former officers Gregory Bowlden and Mason Lewis resigned from the Hampton Police Department, August 5, 2021. Former officer Marcus Stroud resigned from the city police department, October 16, 2019," a spokesperson for the city of Hampton said in a statement to PEOPLE. "In light of the indictments and ongoing criminal litigation into this matter, the City will not be commenting further at this time, and respectfully directs further inquiries to the Henry County District Attorney's office."

The suit against the Henry County Police Department is ongoing. A spokesperson for Henry County did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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