Long Beach must pay $12.2M to family of man whose death was caused by officer’s negligence, jury says

Jurors on Friday decided Long Beach will have to pay just over $12.2 million to the family of 23-year-old Cesar Rodriguez, who died as a result of being hit by an oncoming train during a struggle with a Long Beach Police Department officer at a train station in 2017.

The decision comes after a jury ruled Wednesday that the LBPD officer’s negligence caused Rodriguez’s death.

Rodriguez died after an incident on Aug. 29, 2017, when police officers on a northbound Metro Blue Line train stopped him for fare evasion.

When Rodriguez and the officers eventually got off the train at the Wardlow Road station, authorities say Rodriguez gave them a false identification. That’s when the officers searched Rodriguez and found drugs on him, according to authorities.

Police say that Rodriguez’s attempt to flee sent him and the officer tumbling onto the platform, a narrative his family disagrees with.

Footage of the incident shows the officer and Rodriguez falling to the platform, leaving Rodriguez’s legs hanging over the tracks.

The second phase of the lawsuit, where jurors would weigh how much the family is owed in damages, began Thursday with tearful testimony from Rodriguez’s loved ones, who spoke about the suffering they’ve endured since his death.

Closing arguments from each side continued into Friday before jurors deliberated for just under an hour.

On behalf of Rodriguez’s mother, Rosa Moreno, attorney Arnoldo Casillas asked the jury to come back with a verdict of $20 million for the pain and suffering Moreno will endure for the rest of her life due to the loss of her only son.

“Economics isn’t really the focus of what Ms. Moreno is here for,” Casillas told jurors. “This is about the young man whose presence, just his presence, made his mother glow.”

Representing Long Beach in the case, attorney Nicholas Masero argued that Rodriguez’s family should only be paid for specific expenses such as family vacations that Rodriguez could no longer be a part of or resources that he provided that Moreno would need for the rest of her life. 

The total amount Masero suggested to jurors came out to just under $1 million.

“Nothing can bring Cesar back,” Masero said. “What we can do is find some way to compensate for the loss, moral support and guidance. The only way to do that is money.”

In the end, jurors decided Rodriguez’s family was owed $12,264,000 in non-economic damages and an additional $6,000 in damages for what was spent on Rodriguez’s funeral proceedings.

A juror said the main factor in the decision of finding the officer negligent was that he didn’t move Rodriguez to the center of the platform during the search.

Additionally, he said many of the jurors believed the officer should have followed up with Rodriguez when his name didn’t come up in the system, instead of escalating the incident, detaining him and searching him.

“We thought: ‘In your mind, were you already set on bringing this up to an arrest?'” he said.

It was a bittersweet moment for the Rodriguez family following the ruling. While content with the jury’s decision, Rodriguez’s sister Evelia Granados said, “no amount of money will ever bring Cesar back.”

“I keep repeating that, but to have the justice system announce to the world that their son, their brother was wrongfully killed by police, that’s the essence of what they wanted,” Casillas said. “That’s justice for them. The rest is secondary.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the correct name of the attorney representing Long Beach. 

Jury says LBPD officer’s negligence caused death of man hit by Metro train in 2017

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Fernando Haro is the Long Beach Post's breaking news and public safety reporter.
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