Five Oklahoma City police officers were charged in the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy who was a robbery suspect last year, according to court records filed Wednesday.
Officers Bethany Sears, Jared Barton, Corey Adams, John Skuta and Brad Pemberton face first-degree manslaughter charges in the death of Stavian Rodriguez during a reported armed robbery at a gas station last November.
Rodriguez died of 13 gunshot wounds, according to a probable cause affidavit from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office, and the officers are accused of shooting at him unnecessarily after simultaneously giving the teen varying commands. Police say the teen was initially armed, but Rodriguez’s family and the district attorney contend that he complied with officers to drop his weapon and was unarmed when they started shooting.
All five officers are on paid administrative leave, Oklahoma City Police Capt. Dan Stewart said in a news release to The Washington Post. If convicted, the officers, all of whom have less than six years of experience, face at least four years in prison and possibly a life sentence. A sixth officer, Sarah Carli, was not charged because she fired a less lethal weapon, police said.
The charges handed down from the teen’s death offers the nation’s latest instance in which multiple officers face murder or manslaughter charges in a fatal police-related shooting. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the 2020 death of George Floyd, faces multiple murder and manslaughter charges, while the three other officers involved also face murder charges. In Oklahoma City, it’s the second time in as many weeks that a police officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in a fatal shooting.
Yet it remains rare for several officers to face charges in these fatal shootings. As The Post reported last year, 110 nonfederal law enforcement officers have been charged with either murder or manslaughter for shooting someone on duty since 2005, according to Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who tracks such cases. Of those cases tracked by Stinson, nearly half ended in acquittals or dismissals.
At around 7 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2020, police responded to an armed robbery call at the Okie Gas Express south of downtown Oklahoma City. It was the second time Rodriguez was in the gas station that day, police say, as he and an accomplice, Wyatt Cheatham, 17, previously had loaded multiple packs of cigarettes into a backpack. After the store clerk had exited through the gas station’s drive-through window and locked Rodriguez inside, the teen was given several different commands from police to exit the store, according to the affidavit.
Released surveillance footage shows that Rodriguez exited the store through the drive-through window with his arms raised before dropping his gun. Body-cam video of the five officers released Wednesday shows police barking orders that were difficult to understand as they yelled over one another. None of the officers’ body-cam footage offers a clear view of the events beforehand or a visual of Rodriguez.
“Show us your hands, sir,” one officer said to him over the loud speaker. “Nobody has to get hurt.”
Then, officers began yelling different things at the 15-year-old — “Hands!” “Face down! On the ground!” “Drop it!” As Rodriguez appeared to have his hands in his pockets, Carli fired a nonlethal round that struck the teen, according to the district attorney. Almost immediately, the five officers — Sears, 30, Barton, 33, Adams, 28, Skuta, 34, and Pemberton, 31 — began firing a barrage of lethal rounds that hit him numerous times in just three seconds. Investigators found that Rodriguez had no other weapons on him at the time.
“A cellphone was recovered from the left rear pocket he had his hand in at the time he was shot,” the affidavit said.
On the body-cam video, Rodriguez is heard wincing in pain as officers yelled at the motionless teen to show his hands. At least one of the officers, Skuta, assessed what had happened and repeatedly muttered, “Damn it.”
Cheatham confessed in December to planning and committing robbery. He was also charged with first-degree murder because of a state law that permits an accomplice to face such a charge when an alleged robber is killed in the act — even by police.
Kyle Sweet, an attorney representing the officers, defended the officers’ use of force in a statement to The Post, echoing the support from the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police.
“We are proud to represent these officers and, with respect to the tragic loss of life, we strongly believe their use of force was justified, and we are ready to make that argument in a court of law,” Sweet said.
Rand Eddy, the attorney representing Rodriguez’s family, likened the shooting of the teen to that of a firing squad, accusing police of misleading the public about the shooting, the Oklahoman reported. Adriana Laws, an advocate for Rodriguez’s family, slammed police for the confusing series of events that ended the 15-year-old’s life. While the charges do bring some relief, she told KFOR, they can’t undo the 13 shots that struck Rodriguez.
“It doesn’t change my opinion about this being an egregious murder,” she said.