As protesters call for criminal charges, DA clears LBPD officer in death of man hit by Metro train

The Long Beach Police Department says one of its officers has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the death of a man who was hit by a train during a struggle with the officer in 2017.

Police made the announcement Thursday, two days before a planned Black Lives Matter protest calling for charges against the officer.

The protest is set for Saturday, Aug. 29, the three-year anniversary of 23-year-old Cesar Rodriguez’s death. Rodriguez tumbled into the pathway of an arriving Blue Line train at Long Beach’s Wardlow Station when an officer tried to stop him from running away during a fare evasion stop and the two fell to the ground, police said.

To mark the anniversary, the Long Beach chapter of Black Lives Matter plans to march from LBPD headquarters to the Wardlow Station, alleging Rodriguez’s death amounts to murder.

Authorities, however, don’t see it that way. On Thursday, police released a letter that was sent to the department from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office showing that its prosecutors believe Officer Martin Ron acted reasonably when he tried to stop Rodriguez, even though the situation ended in his death.

“Several witnesses observed Ron attempting to pull Rodriguez back from the edge of the platform before Rodriguez was struck by the train,” prosecutors wrote. “The evidence supports the conclusion that Ron used reasonable force to attempt to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance of Rodriguez.”

According to Ron’s account given to investigators, he and his partner were helping out Metro employees with a fare evasion stop, when Metro officers said Rodriguez’s TAP card did not have proof of fare payment, about $1.75.

According to the officer, Rodriguez gave him a false name when he asked for his identification. He then asked Rodriguez to stand up from the Metro bench to be searched. Police said they found narcotics during the search. The officer said that he felt Rodriguez lunge forward in an attempt to flee from officers. As he held onto Rodriguez, the motion knocked them both down onto the platform, according to Ron.

Video taken from the oncoming Metro train shows that Rodriguez and the officer both fell to the ground with Rodriguez’s legs hanging off of the platform just as the train pulled into the station.

[Editor’s note: This video contains disturbing content.]

Rodriguez was struck, and his lower half was pinned between the platform and the train. Long Beach firefighters freed him after 25 minutes, police records show. He later died of his injuries at the hospital, police said.

Rodriguez’s family have since disagreed with the police narrative. They claim the officer intentionally put Rodriguez in harm’s way by sending him tumbling toward the train tracks.

They’re suing the Long Beach Police Department and the city. The family also alleges police did not notify them about what happened until four days after Rodriguez’s death.

Arnoldo Casillas, the lawyer representing Rodriguez’s family, said the closing of the courts due to the coronavirus pandemic means the litigation has slowed to a halt.

“We’re in limbo,” he said.

Activists say this incident also calls into question the role of officers patrolling Metro lines. A Long Beach Post analysis of an unprecedented trove of LBPD data shows that Black riders in the city were disproportionately stopped on suspicion of fare evasion last year.

Transportation advocates have long highlighted the issue of racial disparities in fare enforcement. Large agencies such as the ones in New York City, Portland and Los Angeles, have since eased their policies.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for example, has scaled back on its citations for fare evasion and no longer fines riders under 18.

The Long Beach Police Department contracts with Metro to provide security on the Long Beach portion of its tracks, but police officials say their officers aren’t responsible for fare enforcements and only assist Metro employees when asked.

A Black Lives Matter Long Beach-led protest for Rodriguez is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29, at 3 p.m. outside the Long Beach police station on Broadway. From there, protesters plan to march to the Wardlow Station by Pacific Place and Wardlow Road, where the incident happened.

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.
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