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Oklahoma father dies in police encounter after mother slaps daughter

By Ben Brumfield and Melanie Whitley, CNN
updated 8:37 PM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Spokesman: 3 Moore, Oklahoma, police officers are suspended with pay
  • Mother and daughter argued at movies, then mother slapped daughter
  • Police came and confronted the father, Luis Rodriguez
  • The cuffed him; an ambulance came; after the encounter he was dead

(CNN) -- It was supposed to be a fun family outing to the movies, but Nair Rodriguez's 19-year-old daughter got under her skin. They fought, she said, and she slapped her daughter.

Moments later, police arrived on a domestic dispute call at the Moore, Oklahoma, theater and did not confront Nair Rodriguez but rather her husband, Luis. They took him down, and after the encounter on February 15, he was dead.

Cell phone video taken by Nair Rodriguez and released this week shows the final minutes of the takedown.

Nair Rodriguez accuses officers of brutality. Police say they were following protocol and used no undue force, although three officers have been suspended with pay.

Argument, upset

The mother-daughter spat upset the mother so badly that she bolted for the family car. Her husband, Luis, followed her to calm her down, family attorney Michael Brooks-Jimenez told reporters.

That's when a group of police and theater security officers turned up, he said.

There were three of them -- one working off-duty security at the theater and two active-duty officers already there to deal with two drunk patrons who'd passed out -- according to Moore police spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Lewis. (In addition, two Oklahoma state game wardens were working as off-duty security at the theater, state wildlife department spokesman Micah Holmes said.)

As the two on-duty Moore officers were leaving, a person ran into the lobby and told them about some kind of domestic dispute outside, Lewis said.

What happened next is disputed.

Nair Rodriguez has said officers beat Luis Rodriguez, CNN affiliate KFOR reported. But Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings calls the actions of his officers "reasonable."

He would not go into much detail and said an investigation is under way. But he mentioned police used pepper spray, CNN affiliate KOCO reported.

Luis Rodriguez ended up on the ground with five men pinning him down, and Nair Rodriguez pulled out a cell phone.

Her fearful cries fill the recording.

"Luis! Luis!" she calls out frantically. Her husband does not respond and does not appear to move.

She calls to the officers to assure her that he is alright.

"Please somebody tell me that he is alive," she implores. "He is not moving."

The officers appear calm. One tells her that he will talk to her once they are finished securing her husband.

Then one walks over to the camera. He tells her that police have called in a medical unit to check on her husband.

It wasn't him

The officer says police received a call about domestic violence before confronting her husband.

It wasn't him, Nair Rodriguez tells him. "I hit my daughter," she says. She wants to know why they have pinned down her husband.

"He refused to give his ID," the officer said. "He got combative."

She notices blood on the officer. "Is he bleeding?" she demands to know.

"I'm bleeding; that's me," the officer says.

An ambulance can be seen in the background, and Luis Rodriguez is lifted onto a stretcher.

The video ends shortly afterward.

Cause of death

An autopsy may reveal more about why Luis Rodriguez died, and surveillance camera footage of the encounter in the movie theater parking lot may reveal what happened before his wife pulled out her cell phone camera.

What police describe as normal procedure, lawyer Brooks-Jimenez describes as something brutal and possibly deadly -- pepper spray to the face and the weight of five men on top of him.

CNN has reached out to Brooks-Jimenez for further comment.

Lewis, from the Moore Police Department, said that three officers from his department who were involved in this incident have been suspended with pay while the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation reviews the incident. The two game wardens working security that day at the theater are continuing in their normal roles, according to Holmes of the state wildlife department.

An autopsy on Luis Rodriguez was conducted on February 16, said Amy Elliott from Oklahoma's office of the chief medical examiner. His body was released four days later, but Rodriguez's full report won't be released until toxicology results come in, adds Elliott.

Regardless of when that happens, the Rodriguez family may have to wait for closure.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation doesn't anticipate it will make any findings for months, according to spokeswoman Jessica Brown.

CNN's Tristan Smith contributed to this report.

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