LANCASTER, Pa. - On January 24, an incident in southeast Lancaster city involved an 18-year-old individual firing at Lancaster city police and, in turn, police returning fire and fatally wounding the individual, identified as Jose Enrique Rodriguez.
Per protocol, District Attorney Craig Stedman oversaw his office’s investigation into the incident, specifically the officers’ conduct/use of force, and made a determination on justification of that conduct.
Late Friday afternoon following a news conference, Stedman issued the following release, which provides a detailed narrative of what took place, along with his determination:
First, we outline the officers involved and action they took. There were four male city officers in close range encounter with Mr. Rodriguez: two officers at two shooting locations. All four officers were fired upon and were in grave risk of bodily injury or death.
Officer 1 fired his duty firearm.
Officer 2 did not fire his duty firearm or deploy his Taser.
Officer 3 deployed his Taser and fired his duty firearm.
Officer 4 deployed his Taser.
To briefly summarize, the investigation showed:
- Rodriguez fired first at police officers after they approached him on a quality of life/curfew detail about 12:30 a.m. on South Duke Street, south of North Street.
- At that point, a police officer returned fire, firing 7 shots. It is not certain if Rodriguez was struck, but he continued to flee the area, armed, east on North Street, then north on Rockland Street.
- Rodriguez then intentionally avoided police, hiding for about 5 minutes, before a second encounter with police happened at the Hillrise Apartment complex.
- On the north side of the complex, Rodriguez fired a second time at police. Two officers there had initially deployed Tasers, before an officer fired 3-4 (likely 4 as will be explained) shots from a duty firearm, fatally wounding Rodriguez.
- Among evidence recovered from the entire area were: two Tasers, shell casings, including from Rodriguez’s pistol and 10 casings fired from two officers’ duty firearms; Rodriguez’s pistol (reported stolen out of Manheim Township); Rodriguez’s cellphone; and a pocketknife believed to have fallen out of Rodriguez’s clothing during the second encounter.
The following is a narrative of the incident, based on private cameras, a Lancaster Safety Coalition camera, police interviews/reports, ballistic evidence, witness interviews, and other information compiled during the investigation.
(It is important to note the entire incident was not captured on surveillance cameras. At the forthcoming press conference, we are showing all video that captured the incident.)
Rodriguez walks east across the 400 block of South Duke Street, from a friend’s home in the 400 block of South Christian Street. Two officers in a police vehicle – Officer 1 and Officer 2 for purposes of this release – stop their vehicle nearby. Rodriguez, with hands in pockets and wearing a backpack, initially walks toward the officers while asking a question, refuses commands to show his hands, then starts to back away and then runs away from officers north on Duke Street and east on North Street refusing further commands.
Officer 1 and Officer 2 pursue onto North Street. On North Street, just northeast of Duke Street, Rodriguez turns and fires at police. A shell casing matching his firearm was recovered there.
Both officers pursue Rodriguez east on North Street. Officer 1, with Officer 2 nearby, takes position behind Rodriguez as he runs north and Officer 1 fires 7 shots at Rodriguez. Seven shell casings were recovered there.
Rodriguez falls to the ground, but then immediately gets up and continues running, turning north onto Rockland Street and proceeds to run north on Rockland Street and west into Hillrise Apartments property. He does not enter any apartments. He is seen on video doing several things, including: gripping the firearm, climbing a fence, laying down in attempt to hide, beginning to take off his backpack. The backpack was found near an apartment.
He makes absolutely no motions or verbalizations to surrender during the entirety of the incident nor does he appear to be injured or physically restricted.
Numerous police officers establish a perimeter around the apartment complex. After hiding for several minutes, Rodriguez becomes visible to police again as he walks north toward Howard Avenue, then runs across a grassy area, along buildings of the complex, westbound, parallel with Howard Avenue.
Officer 3 and Officer 4 are in close proximity and run toward Rodriguez. The officers yell numerous commands to stop and show them his hands, while grabbing their Tasers, which both officers deployed. Taser prongs were found in Rodriguez’s clothes, but there is no clear evidence that the prongs went through the clothing and into Rodriguez’s body or had any effect. As the Tasers are deployed, Rodriguez turns back to the officers and fires a shot at them. Officer 4 can be seen jumping back to avoid being shot. The officers discarded/dropped the Tasers, Officer 3 withdrew his firearm and shot Rodriguez numerous times (likely 4, but no more than 4, as will be explained in the conference). Rodriguez was incapacitated and the officers called for immediate medical attention.
Rodriguez’s gun, the two Tasers, a pocketknife, and a pack of cigarettes are found within about 10 feet of each other, in close proximity to where Rodriguez came to rest.
Regarding the officers’ actions, District Attorney Stedman has deemed the officers justified in their use of force. Primary factors in that decision were:
- Rodriguez fired first at police, on two separate occasions at two pairs of officers.
- After firing the first time, Rodriguez was still armed when he fled, presenting potential danger to other city residents and officers (see attached use of force memo).
-He had committed a forcible felony and was attempting to evade arrest while armed and extremely dangerous (see memo)
- At no time does Rodriguez ever comply with police directives. He tries to elude police by altering appearance - discarding a backpack and taking off his hat and concealing it in his pants. Additionally and most importantly, it is apparent Rodriguez instigated confrontation by firing at police, then took several steps to continue that confrontation. In addition to firing his weapon, he brandished it in direction of police numerous times.
It is important to note that the second pair of officers to encounter Rodriguez made every attempt to take him into custody without using deadly force and exhibited extraordinary restraint. They deployed Tasers when they were in fact justified to use deadly force.
A combination of all evidence and reports establishes that Officer 3 fired after he and Officer 4 were fired upon, at close range, at the location of Rodriguez’s death.
From District Attorney Stedman:
“While it is very fortunate no officers were killed or injured, my office is aware of the tragic loss of life that resulted from this encounter. My office was in contact with Rodriguez’s next of kin since the morning of his death. We met with Rodriguez’s family and presented investigative materials and my findings prior to this press conference.
“There are no winners from this incident. A young man is dead. His family is grieving. An officer was forced to take his life and four officers faced death at the hands of Mr. Rodriguez.
“It is important to remember that none of this had to take place and Mr. Rodriguez bears sole responsibility for his fate. He chose to arm himself that night with a stolen firearm. He chose to not comply with the officers at the initial encounter and again during the final encounter. He had plenty of time and opportunities to surrender and/or comply throughout the incident. Instead, he was determined to defy the police and attempted to take the lives of those officers to effect his escape. Even after he had been shot at, instead of surrendering, he chose to prepare for and engage in combat which resulted in his death.
“The police exhibited extraordinary restraint at the point of risking their lives and we are extremely fortunate that we did not lose one or more of the officers.
“As a prosecutor in Lancaster County for 25 years, I can say that no police officer I have come in contact with wishes to kill or seriously injure individuals they encounter during their work shifts. The officers who used deadly force in this instance did so to protect themselves, their fellow officers, and residents of Lancaster city who also faced potential danger.
“All use of force in the case by all officers involved was entirely justified and this case is closed.”