Worthington settles excessive force lawsuit for nearly $600,000

Eric Rasmussen & Ana Lastra
Updated: November 30, 2020 06:15 PM
Created: November 30, 2020 05:33 PM

A small police department in southwestern Minnesota has settled its second police brutality lawsuit in two years, this time for more than half-a-million dollars.

On Monday, U.S. District Court of Minnesota Chief Judge John Tunheim signed off on the $590,000 settlement between the city of Worthington, its police department, and Kelvin Rodriguez, the man who accused the department of excessive force during an arrest.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) sued the city on behalf of Rodriguez in October 2019.

The lawsuit claimed that Officer Mark Riley and Evan Eggers, who was participating in a ride-along, seriously injured Rodriguez during an arrest and then ignored his repeated requests for medical care in January 2019. 

"I said to myself, 'I think they're going to kill me," Rodriguez told 5 INVESTIGATES through a translator.

ACLU sues Worthington Police Department alleging brutality during arrest

When police did take Rodriguez to have his injuries checked out, the damage required him to be airlifted to Sanford Medical in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for treatment. Rodriguez spent five days in intensive care with broken ribs and lacerated organs.

In a statement e-mailed to 5 INVESTIGATES, a lawyer for the City of Worthington and the League of Minnesota Cities noted that the settlement includes "no admission of any liability by the city and all claims against the individual defendants, Troy Appel, Mark Riley, and Evan Eggers, were separately and voluntarily dismissed."

Dash camera video from the Jan. 12, 2019 incident shows Rodriguez running through several parked cars before turning around with his hands up. 

"In that moment, I was very nervous," Rodriguez said in Spanish. "But I was thinking to myself, 'I've done nothing wrong.'"

Ian Bratlie, the ACLU-MN attorney who represented Rodriguez, says his client immediately complied with Riley's order to stop.

"He put his hands up… and instead of just handcuffing him, they ran over and assaulted him," Bratlie said.

The video also shows the moment Rodriguez is taken to the ground, disappearing behind parked cars.

"Officer Mark Riley dropped his knee onto Kelvin's back," said Bratlie. "It broke four of his ribs, but it also punctured his liver and pancreas."

Riley's squad camera recorded Rodriguez, who speaks limited English, asking to be taken to the hospital while he was handcuffed in the backseat. Riley responded, "I don't speak Spanish."

Rodriguez was never convicted of any crime related to the traffic stop, but in an unrelated incident, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for his role in a fight earlier the same evening.

As part of the settlement, the city said it recognizes "the need to continue to improve upon relationships within the community" and that Worthington police is expanding its "fair and impartial policing training" as well as foreign language training.

"They'll create incentives for officers to learn a second language, but there's going to be an expectation that all officers will be able to communicate basic commands in Spanish," Bratlie said.

This is the second excessive force case that the city has settled. 

In 2018, the city settled a lawsuit with Anthony Promvongsa for $60,000 and made changes to the department's use of force policies.

"Obviously, this kind of behavior is institutionalized to some extent and it's going to be on the police chief and the city administrator to make sure it does, in fact, change," Bratlie said

Rodriguez says he is optimistic change will come.

The father of three commutes from his home in Sheldon, Iowa to work at the JBS pork processing plant in Worthington. 

Despite the sudden windfall from the city, Rodriguez says he will continue working and has no plans to leave the area.

"I want the Latino people to know they can't trample on our rights," Rodriguez said. "Everybody should know what happened. I want things to change."

Full statement from the City of Worthington and the League of Minnesota Cities:

"The City of Worthington and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust agreed to settle the civil rights lawsuit brought by Kelvin Rodriguez and his attorneys for $590,000 and the dismissal of all claims.  This settlement amount includes all monetary damages, medical expenses and Rodriguez's attorney's fees. There is no admission of any liability by the city and all claims against the individual defendants, Troy Appel, Mark Riley, and Evan Eggers, were separately and voluntarily dismissed. As part of the settlement agreement, and recognizing the need to continue to improve upon relationships within the community, the City of Worthington Police Department is also expanding its fair and impartial policing training as well as foreign language training."


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