Warren police officer charged with punching, slamming prisoner

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Police Officer Matthew Rodriguez was charged in Warren's 37th District Court on Tuesday with misdemeanor assault and battery, and willful neglect of duty in connection to a June 13 incident in which he's seen on video punching a 19-year-old prisoner before throwing him into a cell.

Rodriguez, 48, and a 14-year veteran of the Warren police force, is on paid suspension pending the outcome of a hearing Friday with Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer to determine whether the officer should be fired.

Seconds after a Warren police officer punched a prisoner in the face and slammed him to the ground while booking him last week, fellow officers intervened and reported the use of force, resulting in assault charges in what Dwyer said was an example of "the system working quickly."

During a press conference Tuesday with Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido in Dwyer's office at police headquarters, the commissioner said he was "disgusted" by Rodriguez's alleged actions but added: "I'm proud of how the other officers handled the situation. They followed their training."

Dwyer showed a video of the incident in which Rodriguez is seen in the booking room punching the suspect, a Detroit resident who had been arrested for a carjacking and other charges. Rodriguez also grabs the suspect and slams him to the ground.

Within seconds, the two arresting officers intervene, the video shows.

"The officer takes custody of the arrestee at 6:06 a.m.," Dwyer said, laying out a timeline of events. "He delivered the first strike at 6:08 a.m. and 37 seconds (later) ... two other officers responded and intervened ... a mere 6 seconds after seeing the first strike."

The video has no sound, and Dwyer said he did not know if there was an argument between the officer and the suspect or what the incident was about.

The incident was reported to supervisors at 7:15 a.m., and supervisors relayed the news to police administration at 8 a.m., Dwyer said. By 8:10 a.m., an internal affairs investigation had been launched, and by 9 a.m. Rodriguez had been placed on paid leave, per the contract with Police Officers Association of Warren union, Dwyer said.

"The arrestee was sent to the hospital at 9:10 a.m. on my orders," Dwyer said. "He did not request medical care, but I had him checked out to be sure."

The prisoner was returned to his cell at 12:12 p.m. and was transported to the Macomb County Jail at 4:10 p.m. the same day, Dwyer said.

"The footage ... is sad, and it's upsetting to every member of this department," Dwyer said. "The reason we are here today is to be transparent and to inform the public that acts of misconduct will not be tolerated. The Warren Police Department has not received a citizen's complaint; my administration self-initiated this investigation."

Lucido said the officer was not charged with felony assault "because there wasn't an injury. Police officers aren't above the law, and I charge them like I'd charge any other case."

Rodriguez was arraigned in front of 37th District Court Chief Judge John Chmura, who set a $5,000 personal bond.

Dwyer praised the officers who intervened during the incident.

"I have nothing but respect for them," he said. "Those officers did their duty and reported their fellow officer because it was the right thing to do."

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