WORTHINGTON, MN—The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has filed a lawsuit against the city of Worthington, MN, and its police department over the alleged use of excessive force during the arrest of a Sheldon man in January.
According to a 21-page civil complaint filed on Monday, Oct. 14, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, Worthington police officer Mark Riley and his civilian “ride-along friend and business partner” Evan Eggers of Worthington allegedly broke four of 33-year-old Kelvin Francisco Rodriguez’s ribs and lacerated his pancreas and liver while he was being arrested.
The civil rights lawsuit alleges repeated requests by Rodriguez, who was bleeding internally, for medical assistance were ignored.
When medical treatment finally was permitted after nearly 90 minutes from when the police first observed Rodriguez, his injuries proved to be so severe that he had to taken by a medical helicopter to Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, SD.
The delay in medical assistance was “potentially deadly,” according to the lawsuit.
The ACLU-MN reported Rodriguez was in intensive care for five days and underwent several surgeries and medical procedures.
His medical expenses have cost him close to $150,000 and he missed seven weeks of work.
According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez has requested a jury trial and is seeking reimbursement for his medical expenses, his attorneys’ fees and costs, punitive damages and changes by the Worthington Police Department in its policies regarding the use of force.
“What happened to me is happening to other people, but they are silent,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “That’s why I’m working with the ACLU of Minnesota to file suit.
“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,” he said.
Rodriguez is a native of the Dominican Republic and married with two children, according to the ACLU-MN.
“My wife and children saw me going in and out of life and death,” he said. “I think it is fair to ask for justice. I don’t want to see the officer in uniform.”
The lawsuit alleges the assault of Rodriguez violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the delay in him receiving medical assistance violated the 14th Amendment.
ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson said in a statement that “immigrants and people of color are too often targeted by police excessive force.”
“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.”
In addition to the city of Worthington and its police department, the lawsuit names Riley, Eggers and Worthington police chief Troy Appel as defendants.
Calls made to the Worthington city attorney’s office and the city’s police department for comment went unreturned. Worthington city administrator Steve Robinson was unavailable for comment.
On the evening of Jan. 12, Rodriguez — an employee of the JBS meat-processing plant in Worthington — was driving down 12th Street in the Minnesota city after work when he noticed a Worthington police car.
According to the lawsuit, fearful of how the city’s police department treats immigrants and people of color in Worthington, Rodriguez drove his vehicle off the road he was on into an auto dealership parking lot.
The police car followed him, although according to the lawsuit, law enforcement had no reason to suspect Rodriguez of any wrongdoing. Rodriguez got out of his vehicle and ran as the police car approached.
As the police car followed Rodriguez’s vehicle into the auto dealership parking lot, the police car’s emergency lights and siren were not activated.
Eggers was riding along with Riley, wearing a bullet-resistant vest and “acting under the color of state law,” which means in a position similar to a police officer, according to the lawsuit.
When Riley turned on the police car’s lights, Rodriguez immediately returned with his hands up over his head and followed police commands to get down.
According to the lawsuit, Eggers exited the police car to run after Rodriguez and allegedly kicked Rodriguez in the back, making Eggers “a willful participant in the assault.”
In addition, Riley allegedly dropped his weight on a “prone and defenseless” Rodriguez and kneed him in the back while Rodriguez moaned in pain and did not resist, according to the lawsuit.
Riley put Rodriguez, who speaks limited English, in handcuffs and repeatedly asked him over and over why he ran from the police.
The alleged assault and Rodriguez’s pleas for medical assistance in the auto dealership parking lot were caught on video by a police dash camera, but much of what occurred was obscured by parked vehicle.
Rodriguez, who did not face any criminal charges stemming from his arrest, provided the ACLU-MN with the video, which has been posted on the ACLU-MN’s website and on YouTube.
Earlier that evening, Rodriguez had gotten into a scuffle at a bar and later entered a guilty plea for disorderly conduct in that incident.
However, Riley and Eggers were unaware of that incident at the time when they arrested Rodriguez, according to the ACLU-MN.
The lawsuit marks the second time the ACLU-MN has sued the city of Worthington for the use of excessive force by its police department.
Anthony Promvongsa of Worthington was awarded a $60,000 settlement in 2018 after he was assaulted by a Worthington police officer during a 2016 traffic stop.