(Editor’s note: The videos below show the shooting death of Stavian Rodriguez on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, and may be upsetting to watch.)
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater filed first-degree manslaughter charges this afternoon against five Oklahoma City Police Department officers who fatally shot 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez in November after he had surrendered during a robbery, dropped his handgun and reached toward his pants.
The five OKCPD officers charged with manslaughter are:
- Corey Adams
- Jared Barton
- Brad Pemberton
- Bethany Sears
- John Skuta
A sixth officer involved in the incident — Sgt. Sarah Carli — was not charged because she fired a nonlethal beanbag round, Prater said. Other officers on the scene did not fire their weapons and are also not facing charges.
Prater declined to comment beyond providing the videos included in this article and saying the officers would be tried together.
Wednesday’s court filing marks the second time in two weeks that Prater has brought manslaughter charges against members of the OKCPD. On Feb. 25, Prater filed a manslaughter charge against Sgt. Clifford Holman for shooting 60-year-old Bennie Edwards during a confrontation with police.
Wednesday’s court filing is also not Prater’s first in the death of Stavian Rodriguez. In late December, Prater charged 17-year-old Wyatt Cheatam with felony murder owing to Cheatam’s involvement in the convenience store robbery that led to Rodriguez’s death. State statute allows someone to be charged with murder “if the death of a human being results from the commission or attempted commission” of certain felonies, including robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree burglary.
Timeline of events in Stavian Rodriguez shooting
Prater released the surveillance camera footage and five body-worn camera recordings to NonDoc and other media Wednesday. Rodriguez’s mother, Cameo Holland, had previously filed a legal action requesting the videos be released by OKCPD, which had declined to do so. Prater met with Holland and her attorney and provided them with copies of the videos earlier this year.
The order of events as shown in the videos progresses as follows:
- Officers are shown driving in response to a robbery report at a gas station in the 7900 block of S. Western Ave.;
- When they arrive, Rodriguez is inside the building with the doors locked by a security system;
- At 7:05 p.m. as officers take positions behind vehicles and other objects, Rodriguez begins to climb out of a drive-thru window. “Show us your hands, sir. Nobody has to get hurt,” one officer states over a megaphone;
- Multiple officers begin shouting commands as Rodriguez emerges from the window and lifts his sweatshirt and undershirt;
- With his right hand held above his head, Rodriguez uses his left hand to pull a handgun out of his clothing by its muzzle. He drops the weapon, lowers his hands and reaches toward his pants with his left hand;
- Sgt. Carli fires her beanbag round, which hits and deflects off of the left side of Rodriguez;
- Other officers open fire simultaneously, with 13 bullets striking Rodriguez, who falls backwards and hits the side of the building;
- As Rodriguez moans audibly, at least 18 officers appear and move toward him while commanding that he show his hands. One officer places Rodriguez in handcuffs and says, “Get EMSA going”;
- Officer Jared Barton — dressed in civilian clothes and an OKCPD vest — runs to a vehicle and then returns to administer aid;
- An OKCPD officer gathers the officers who discharged their firearms and instructs them to turn off their body-worn cameras;
- EMSA arrives on scene, and the videos end prior to Stavian Rodriguez being pronounced dead.
Mother: ‘We were treated like crap’
Hours before Stavian Rodriguez was shot Nov. 23 by Oklahoma City police officers, his mother, Cameo Holland, had reported her son as missing, something she had done before. Police had picked her son up from a girl’s house “at least twice,” Holland told NonDoc in December.
A single mother parenting a teenager who was connected to the juvenile justice system for misdemeanor infractions, Holland had sought the assistance of police in finding her son before, and she also hoped that other authority figures in the system could help.
“There were some fines I had to pay in Midwest City. I knew that it was fines, but it was a juvenile judge, and I figured when we went in front of him that the man would have something to say like, ‘Don’t do this,’ or, ‘You need to get it together,’ or something. And he didn’t say anything like that,” Holland told NonDoc in December. “He just told us how much it was going to be and where to pay. So I tried to provoke him into, ‘At least can I get a lecture here or something?’ What I said to the judge is, ‘I’ve tried to talk to my son. I’m not really sure why he’s making some of the choices he’s making. I’m not really sure what to do from here that I haven’t already done.’ But there was no response except to tell me the directions to exit the courtroom and the directions to the window to pay the money. And when we left that day, I talked to my son again, and I told him, ‘These people don’t care about you. That man didn’t have one word to say to you about your future.’ (…) I was trying to tell him, ‘I care about you. I’m trying to talk to you. (…) Basically, it’s me and you. That’s who cares about me and you — me and you.”
In the aftermath of Stavian Rodriguez’s death, his mother grew more frustrated with the police she encountered: OKCPD detectives she felt were not direct with her when they notified her of the shooting, as well as OKCPD officers who she encountered the next morning at the downtown police station after watching footage of the shooting captured and broadcast by KOCO.
“I was screamed at. I was told to leave. We were treated like crap,” Holland said. “I told them, ‘If you want to be mad at my son, well you killed him, so I don’t know why you’re treating me like this.’ They were extremely rude. Threatening. Getting in my face. (…) The mother of somebody that you killed has asked for basic information, things like how many times did you shoot my child. Did he say anything to you? Just things that any decent human being would be open to sitting down and talking to me. Even just to sit down and talk to me and tell me you don’t think you did anything wrong.”
Eventually, Holland did hear from OKCPD investigators, and OKCPD Chief Wade Gourley told NonDoc in February — prior to Prater receiving a completed investigation from police — that he will eventually meet with Holland, whose attorney filed notice Dec. 14 of a potential federal tort claim.
“The criminal case hasn’t even been decided,” Gourley said. “Normally, every instance where we’re involved in a fatal encounter, we normally meet with the family once the criminal case is over. In this case, she’s filed a civil action so that limits what I can say and what I can do.”
Gourley outlined the standard process for “what happens on every one of these” police shootings.
“I get a phone call at home, and so do our investigators — this is how these processes are started — that an incident like that has occurred. And we get a story of what happened,” Gourley said. “Well, by the time we get to the scene, that story has changed. By the time you complete an investigation, it’s changed. So if I’m going to sit down with someone, any family member on any incident that we’re involved in — which I’m always willing to do — I want to have all of the facts because I don’t want to just sit there and them have a lot of questions and me not be able to answer them. So I think the best advice I could give to anyone out there is just to have patience. These things take time, they evolve. You have to look at all the evidence. You have to really figure out what happened.”
OKC Fraternal Order of Police President John George released a statement Wednesday defending the five OKCPD officers being charged with manslaughter.
“Officers must make life and death decisions in a split second, relying on their training. When an armed robbery suspect did not obey police commands, five officers perceived the same threat and simultaneously fired their weapons,” George said. “A loss of life is always a tragedy and we know these officers did not take firing their weapons lightly. The OKC FOP stands by these officers and maintains they acted within the law.”
‘A persistent mental anguish’
With charges filed, an Oklahoma County jury will ultimately be asked to adjudicate what happened and whether the five OKCPD officers charged with manslaughter committed a crime.
It could be about 18 months before a trial begins, which means Holland could experience the one-year anniversary of her son’s death and another holiday season prior to the officers going to trial.
In February, Holland answered a question via email about her 2020 holiday experience:
This Thanksgiving my family spent the day together, but there was no celebration. There was no laughter or cooking or warmth. Without Stavian, there was just a huge hole in everything. At that time we were all still in shock and there were just so many tears and questions and so much pain. In between making funeral arrangements and trying to stay sane, there was a lot of silence and sadness. It was a blur of mental and emotional torture.
Christmas wasn’t much better. I didn’t think I’d be able to wrap presents or put up a tree, but I had to find the strength somehow because I do have other children to be strong for. Stavian’s murder has killed me a million times since Nov. 23… to know not one gift under the tree had his name on it… it just killed me inside. To hang up stockings, knowing I wouldn’t be filling his, killed me. I hung one up for him anyway, the one he used all his life, the stocking that my mother made for me that I used as a child..Stockings were one of his favorite parts of Christmas. I always try to personalize them for each of my kids… having to try to gather gifts for two other sons, but nothing else for Stavian killed me. Having to go out and shop for something for my child to wear to his funeral and being asked by store employees, “So who are you shopping for?” “I hope you have a merry Christmas.” “How are you today?” It killed me. To see four uniformed OKCPD officers hanging out, laughing and joking in Finish Line at the mall while I’m there to buy my son his last pair of shoes killed me. To have gifts that Stavian specifically asked for or that we picked out together put away in a box because he wasn’t here to receive them killed me. Each year my kids help make the list of what we’ll have for holiday dinners. Stavian loved to eat and loved to experiment with food. Not getting to cook for him or see him enjoy the holiday killed me. The night of Christmas Eve after I put the last gift under the tree and arranged all of Santa’s surprises I just sat there in the dark staring at the tree in disbelief. Usually, I put the tree up and then we all decorate it together.
This year, all we used were the ribbons from flowers sent to his funeral and a single ornament with his picture on it to decorate our tree. It all just hurts so much. There is a persistent mental anguish, but at times it physically hurts. There are no words to describe the true depth of the pain and sadness my family has experienced. And through it all I had to be strong enough not to break down in front of my kids and strong enough not to break down when they did so that I can comfort them.
Surveillance footage with body camera audio
Brad Pemberton body-worn camera footage
Corey Adams body-worn camera footage
Jon Skuta body-worn camera footage
(Update: This article was updated at 3:02 p.m. Wednesday, March 10, to include the charging documents and adjust the headline to note charges had been filed.)