5 Henry County officers indicted on murder charges in 24-year-old’s death

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Victim died of asphyxiation after being pressed to the ground for 10 minutes

Five law enforcement officers have been indicted by a Henry County Grand Jury on multiple charges, including malice murder, in the 2019 death of a naked man who was pressed on the ground outside of a music festival.

The indictments stem from an incident in September 2019 that took place outside of Atlanta Motor Speedway as it hosted the Imagine Music Festival, Henry Assistant District Attorney Megan Matteucci said in a news release. Fernando Rodriguez died of asphyxiation after he was handcuffed and pressed to the ground while the officers waited for an ambulance.

Henry police officers Robert Butera and Quinton Phillips, along with Hampton police officers Mason Lewis, Marcus Stroud and Gregory Bowlden, have each been charged with one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault, Matteucci said.

The incident began when a 911 caller reported a naked man walking outside of the festival, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. Body camera footage shows the naked man, later identified as Rodriguez, walking in the middle of the road, confused and uncooperative but not combative. The officers yelled at him to stop and when Rodriguez continued walking, one of the officers stunned him with a Taser.

Upon getting stunned, Rodriguez fell to his back in the street, the body camera footage shows. The officers repeatedly tell him to roll over, then stun Rodriguez several more times when he does not comply. The officers eventually forced him to roll over, and multiple officers knelt on his arms, neck and back to keep him restrained. The officers were kneeling on him in the road for nearly 10 minutes, the AJC reported.

At one point, one of the officers can be heard on the body camera footage saying that Rodriguez was “holding his breath.” Another realized he had stopped breathing.

In a wrongful death suit filed by Rodriguez’s family, the officers should have given the man medical aid instead of continuing to restrain him. Instead, they waited for an ambulance to arrive. Rodriguez’s family ultimately accepted a $3 million settlement from the Hampton Police Department. The family is still pursuing legal action against the Henry County Police Department, the AJC reported.

Rodriguez was taken to the hospital and died two days later. His death was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner.

The Henry Grand Jury issued the indictment Friday evening after hearing two days of testimony from witnesses, Matteucci said. Warrants for the officers’ arrests will be issued next week. In addition to the previously listed charges, each officer has been charged with violating their oath of office.

— Please return to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for updates.