The American Civil Liberties Union has again sued the city of Worthington, Minn., and its police department, alleging excessive force, this time contending that an officer and a civilian riding along in the squad car assaulted a 33-year-old man and kept him in custody as he begged to be taken to a hospital for treatment of “potentially deadly” injuries.
The ACLU of Minnesota sued Monday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Kelvin F. Rodriguez, 33, of Sheldon, Iowa. The civil rights lawsuit said the encounter resulted in him being in intensive care for five days, and needing multiple surgeries and other medical procedures totaling nearly $150,000 for four broken ribs and internal bleeding from lacerations to his pancreas and liver. Rodriguez was never charged with a crime stemming from his apprehension.
Along with the city and its police force, also named as defendants are Police Chief Troy Appel, officer Mark Riley and his “ride-along friend and business partner,” 22-year-old Evan Eggers, who recently studied law enforcement at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
City Attorney Jesse Flynn, speaking on behalf of the city and Police Department, said he only learned of the lawsuit Tuesday morning and would decide later whether to comment. Messages were left with all the other defendants seeking their response to the allegations.
“As a human being, I ask that the police be held accountable for not adequately doing their job and respecting me as a human being,” Rodriguez said in a statement released by the civil rights organization. “My wife and children saw me going in and out of life and death.”
Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota, added in a statement that “immigrants and people of color are too often targeted by police excessive force.”
Rodriguez is a native of the Dominican Republic, married with two children and works at the JBS meat processing plant in Worthington, Nelson said.
“We hope this lawsuit makes the city and Worthington police finally recognize and stop the use of excessive force against all people,” Nelson said. “Police are sworn to protect and serve people, not harm them, and certainly not to send them to the intensive care unit.”
While bleeding internally, Rodriguez repeatedly asked police for medical attention, according to the suit.
After nearly 1½ hours from when police first spotted Rodriguez, Nelson said, an examination found that his injuries were so severe that he needed to be rushed by air ambulance from a Worthington hospital to one in Sioux Falls that is better equipped to treat his injuries.
“Riley waited an unreasonable length of time before getting Rodriguez medical attention,” the suit alleges. “Riley’s delay was potentially deadly.”
In an interview Tuesday, Nelson added, “For someone who is bleeding internally, that’s pretty serious.”
Squad car video recorded the incident in the parking lot, but much of the actions of the officer and the civilian were obscured by parked automobiles. The ACLU received the video from Rodriguez and posted it on YouTube.
Riley remains on the police force, according to the department’s website. Nelson said that “to the best of our knowledge ... we do not believe that he faced any consequences” within the department.
This is the second time the ACLU has sued Worthington and Chief Appel for excessive force by one of the city’s officers. In October 2018, Anthony Promvongsa, now 25, of Worthington, won a $60,000 legal settlement after Officer Joe Joswiak dragged him out of his car at gunpoint during a traffic stop in 2016, then punched and kicked him.
The settlement also imposed several requirements upon the police department, among them: Officers must submit forms detailing use of force within five days of any encounter, and discipline for any officer who fails to file or delays filing a report or is deceptive in its details.
The ACLU said it does not believe those requirements were met in connection with Riley’s apprehension of Rodriguez.
The suit seeks for Rodriguez reimbursement for his medical bills and legal expenses, punitive damages and changes in the Police Department’s policies and practices involving use of force.
According to the suit:
Rodriguez saw a police car and drove into the auto dealership parking lot because he was “fearful of how police treat minorities in Worthington.”
Riley followed into the parking lot without emergency lights or siren activated. Eggers was with him, wearing a bullet-resistant vest and “acting under the color of state law,” meaning in a role akin to a police officer.
“They followed him solely because they witnessed Rodriguez leave the main road after seeing a police car,” the suit read. “He regularly pulls off the street when he sees police cars [because the city’s police] has a reputation for excessive force. Events proved that Rodriguez was rightly afraid that the [police] would beat him up if they stopped him.”
Out of that fear, Rodriguez ran as the squad car got closer. The squad lights were engaged, and Rodriguez started returning to his car with his hands above his head.
Riley screamed a profanity as he ordered Rodriguez to the ground. Eggers kicked Rodriguez in the back and grabbed his arm. Riley dropped his weight on a “prone and defenseless” Rodriguez and kneed him in the back. The kneeing broke Rodriguez’s ribs and damaged his pancreas and liver.
“Rodriguez moaned in pain and did not resist,” the suit continued.
Riley handcuffed Rodriguez, who English is limited, and repeatedly asked him why he ran.
At police headquarters and with the help of an interpreter, Rodriguez said he needed a doctor because he believed his ribs were broken. He ended up in intensive care in Sioux Falls for five days and missed seven weeks or work.
Earlier that evening in Worthington, Rodriguez got into a conflict at a bar and later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. However, Nelson said Tuesday, Riley and Eggers were unaware of that incident and “had no reason to suspect Kelvin of anything when they initiated the encounter.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482