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Police Chief Lauds Rodriguez Findings; Youth’s Lawyers Call Them Unacceptable

Times Staff Writer

Irvine Police Chief Leo Peart on Tuesday lauded the Orange County district attorney’s recent report exonerating his department of allegations of using excessive force against an autistic man.

The report, filling two volumes each several inches thick, “was a thorough and unbiased investigation involving contact with 81 individuals,” he said.

But lawyers representing the family of Guido Rodriguez Jr.--the autistic man who on April 21 was chased, subdued and handcuffed by Irvine police officers who thought he was under the influence of drugs--called the report “unacceptable” and Peart’s praise of it “self-serving.”

Internal Probe Promised

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“When was the last time . . . the district attorney here in Orange County ever (indicted) a police department (for) the actions of any of its officers?” attorney R. Q. Shupe asked. “It doesn’t happen.”

Peart said his reading of the report made him believe no improper conduct or excessive force was used but, nevertheless, the department would conduct an internal investigation to determine whether Sgt. Jim Lowder, Officer Shari Lohman and Officer David Stroermer had violated any procedural guidelines.

Rodriguez, 18 years old but with a mental age of 4 or 5, underwent surgery to remove a kidney three days after the incident as a result of Sgt. Lowder’s actions, Rodriguez’s lawyers say.

At the press conference Tuesday, Peart said the report determined that Rodriguez’s kidney condition was congenital and his April 24 surgery was “elective.” The report, Peart said, found “no external evidence of trauma, abrasions, bruises or scratches in the area of the abdomen and specifically the area of the left kidney.”

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Birth Defect Acknowledged

Richard Peterson, another family attorney, agreed that Rodriguez’s kidney problem was due to a birth defect but the bleeding he suffered the day after the incident was not mere coincidence. “The hemorrhaging . . . was caused by the officer throwing him to the ground,” he said, adding that internal injury would not necessarily manifest itself in external signs.

“While the kidney (problem) was congenital, for them to say it (the surgery) would have been necessary anyway is like saying they could shoot a terminally ill patient because he was going to die anyway,” Peterson said.

The lawyers said they would continue pressing the family’s $10-million lawsuit against the three officers and the City of Irvine and would subpoena the report to challenge the testimony it cites. Referring to Peart’s figure of 81 witnesses, not including police officers, mentioned in the report, Peterson said he, too, had “talked to 81 or more people, but only about half a dozen of those have any pertinent information.”

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