Oklahoma City, OK – Five Oklahoma City police officers have been charged with first-degree manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of a 15-year-old armed robbery suspect, prosecutors announced on Wednesday.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Pratner alleged in court documents that Oklahoma City Police Department (OKCPD) Officers Bradley Pemberton, 31, Jonathan Skuta, 34, Bethany Sears, 30, Jared Barton, 33, and Corey Adams, 28, “jointly, willfully, unlawfully, and unnecessarily killed Stavian Rodriguez, by shooting him with a firearm,” KWTV reported.
The incident occurred on Nov. 23, 2020, after the OKCPD received a report of an armed robbery at an Okie Gas & Express on South Western Avenue, according to KWTV.
Security footage from inside the store showed the suspect, 15-year-old Stavian Rodriguez, pointing a gun at the clerk while his 17-year-old accomplice, Wyatt Cheatham, stuffed cartons of cigarettes into a bag, according to the news outlet.
Police said the duo left the store for a moment, but that Rodriguez returned about two minutes later and ordered the cashier to give him more money, KWTV reported.
The worker managed to escape through a drive-thru window and locked Rodriguez inside the business, police said.
Officers surrounded the building and repeatedly ordered Rodriguez to show his hands, bodycam footage showed.
The suspect ended up climbing out of the business through a window and as officers yelled at him to “get on the ground,” surveillance footage showed.
The teen lifted his shirt, exposing his waistband, then raised his hands for a moment before dropping his left hand down, pulling out his gun – which was equipped with an extended magazine – and dropping it onto the pavement, the video showed.
“Get down on the ground!” the officers ordered.
According to court documents, Rodriguez then lowered both of his hands and placed his left hand in his back pocket and his right hand in his front pocket, KWTV reported.
KCDPD Sergeant Sarah Carli responded by firing a less-lethal round at him just as the other five officers discharged their duty weapons.
Investigators found a cell phone in Rodriguez’s left pocket after the shooting, KWTV reported.
He was not carrying any other weapons, police said.
Rodriguez was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, ABC News reported.
He had been hit by 13 of the rounds fired by the officers, according to charging documents.
All six officers involved in the incident were placed on paid administrative leave, KOCO reported.
Sgt. Carli was not charged alongside the other five officers due to the fact she had fired a less-lethal round at the teen, according to the news outlet.
“Officers must make life and death decisions in a split second, relying on their training,” Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President John George said in a statement after the charges were announced, according to KWTV. “When an armed robbery suspect did not obey police commands, five officers perceived the same threat and simultaneously fired their weapons.”
“A loss of life is always a tragedy and we know these officers did not take firing their weapons lightly,” George said. “The OKC FOP stands by these officers and maintains they acted within the law.”
The OKCPD released bodycam footage of the incident on Wednesday after Prater concluded his investigation and told the department the five officers would be charged, according to USA Today.
Prater also released the bodycam footage and security footage the same day.
Rodriguez’s mother, Cameo Holland, had previously filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma City, demanding the bodycam footage be released, ABC News reported.
Cheatham was charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in December of 2020 in connection with the incident, KOCO reported.
According to court documents, Cheatham allegedly confessed he helped plan and carry out the armed robbery at the gas station.
He fled the scene before police arrived.
“What that statute says is that if a death occurs during the commission of certain types of felonies that everybody involved is guilty of murder in the first degree, regardless of whether they intended to take a life or not,” Oklahoma City attorney Benjamin Munda told KOCO.
Protesters have argued the murder charge against Cheatham is unfair and that he should be charged with a lesser offense, ABC News reported.
They have also accused OKCPD of “torturing” Rodriguez’s family by not releasing the bodycam footage sooner, KOCO reported.
“They basically tortured his family,” local activist Sara Bana told the news outlet. “Every minute and every day and every night that went on, and this mother, in her mind, had to in her mind try to fill in the gaps of her son’s killing was torture.”
“We could’ve reduced that pain and suffering, and we could have reduced a trauma and suffering to the community as a whole,” Bana added. “That would preserve the integrity of the police department, as well.”
Oklahoma City Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon criticized the way the officers handled the shooting itself, and declared last year that police never should have shot the teen, USA Today reported.
“No one should be executed because they made ‘furtive movements,’” Hamon declared. “Our systems are broken and need to be re-imagined and need rebuilding.”
Holland’s attorney, Randy Eddy, said the charges filed against the five officers are a step towards justice, NBC News reported.
“The Oklahoma City Police Department has been perpetuating the murder of innocent and unarmed people for decades,” Eddy alleged. “It has the second-highest per capita rate of killings in the nation. Of the many forms of justice Stavian and his family deserve, we hope to see an end to this senseless violence and tragedy in our community.”
The officers face up to life in prison if convicted, The New York Times reported.
“The first thing that comes to mind is ‘Praise God,’ and I’m hopeful that they will be convicted,” Holland told the paper. “The surprise is that the district attorney is willing to do the right thing and to charge all of them.”
“I don’t defend what he did at the store or even him being there,” she told the paper, “but nobody should expect to be killed for committing a crime — not robbery.”
Holland said she is proud of her son.
“I love my son, and there was a lot more to his life than the last hour of that incident that happened at that store,” she told The New York Times. “I’m proud of my son, and I’m not going to stop what I’m going to do until I get what is fair for my child, as fair as fair can be at this point.”
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. Warning – Graphic Content: