Former Warren cop charged with federal crime for beating in city jail
A former suburban Detroit police officer is facing a federal civil rights charge after the officer repeatedly punched a Black man in the face and slammed his head into the ground.
Matthew Rodriguez, the former Warren police officer, was charged by the U.S. attorney’s office with using excessive force against 19-year-old Jaquwan Smith. Smith was in the city jail for processing after being arrested.
The charges accuse Rodriguez of violating Smith’s civil rights.
U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said the allegations in the federal complaint "show a shocking abuse of authority" by the officer, "which cannot be ignored, or go unpunished."
“We will not tolerate violence from civilians, nor from the police," Ison said during a Monday news conference. The prosecution "should send a clear message to those officers who defy their oath and the constitution."
Video from the Warren jail shows Rodriguez punch Smith multiple times in the face and slam his body and head into the ground. Prosecutors said Rodriguez continued to hit Smith even after other officers intervened.
FBI agent Devin Kowalski investigated the attack. In his report, he said there was no basis for the force Rodriguez used, and that it was unreasonable.
“It breaks my heart, and it's completely unacceptable. Actions like that compromise trust in the community — the trust the community has with law enforcement,” he said.
Elias Muawad, Rodriguez’s lawyer, declined to comment on the federal charges.
Rodriguez is scheduled to appear in court later this week and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted, according to Ison.
“No one's above the law, including Mr. Rodriguez, who took an oath of office, and as such, he will be prosecuted just as anyone else would be prosecuted,” said Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido, who is working with the attorney general’s office on the federal prosecution.
"It gives a black eye to all law enforcement and it gives a black eye to the ones that try to do their best every day to take on the responsibilities and duties that they're charged with under their oath,” Lucido said.
Lucido said there was no way to press any additional state charges under current Michigan law.
Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer called the attack "unjustified" after an internal investigation last month.
In a civil lawsuit separate from the federal prosecution, Smith says he suffered a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, bruising, and other injuries as a result of the attack.
Smith is suing the City of Warren, former officer Rodriguez, and the other two unnamed officers who federal prosecutors say intervened in the attack, for $50 million in damages.