Former cop who allegedly beat prisoner faces federal charge

Warren Police Department, officers also named in federal civil lawsuit

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published July 21, 2023


WARREN — Two cases are now pending in federal courts after an incident in the booking area of the Warren Police Department’s jail in June.

On July 10, now-former Warren police officer Matthew Rodriguez was charged federally with violating a prisoner’s civil rights under the color of law by allegedly assaulting him without justification.

On June 27, Rodriguez, the Warren Police Department and two other officers were listed as defendants in a six-count civil complaint related to the incident in the jail.

Surveillance footage released last month appeared to show Rodriguez, 48, of Southgate, strike prisoner Jaquwon Smith, 19, of Detroit, in the face, push him into a wall, slam his head against the floor and pull him by his hair to lift him off the floor, before throwing him into a jail cell. Smith can be seen in the video with his hands to his side, apparently speaking to Rodriquez, who appears to be shown turning away from Smith before turning back and striking him.

It reportedly happened in the booking room at the Warren Police Department in the early morning hours of June 13.

Rodriguez was fired by the city on June 26.

In a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Dawn N. Ison addressed the federal charge now leveled against Rodriguez, who she said repeatedly assaulted Smith without justification. Ison was joined in the announcement by Macomb County Prosecutor Peter J. Lucido and Devin J. Kowalski, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Division.

Initially, Lucido charged Rodriguez with assault and battery and willful neglect of duty. According to Ison, Lucido will dismiss the state charges so the federal felony case can go forward.

“We are grateful for Prosecutor Lucido’s cooperation in this case, and his willingness to dismiss the state charges so that this federal case can go forward where the defendant now faces a felony charge,” Ison said.

According to Ison, Rodriguez faces up to 10 years in prison for the alleged civil rights violations.

Rodriguez’s attorney, Elias Muawad, was not available for comment.

The civil case was filed on June 27 in U.S. District Court on behalf of Smith by his attorneys, James J. Harrington IV and Kevin C. Riddle, of the Fieger law firm. Rodriguez was named as a defendant in the $50 million lawsuit along with the Warren Police Department and two other officers listed only as “John Doe I” and “John Doe II.”

There are six counts in the civil lawsuit, which includes allegations of gross negligence and/or wanton or willful misconduct.  In addition, it is alleged Rodriguez violated Smith’s rights through excessive force, assault and battery, and ethnic intimidation.

The Warren Police Department was named in the complaint under the Monell doctrine for municipal liability. The lawsuit claims the department “had knowledge of officer Matthew James Rodriguez during his tenure as a City of Warren Police Officer, involving claims of excessive force, failure to intervene and state law claims of assault and battery.”

The lawsuit claims the two other officers failed to intervene to prevent violation of Smith’s civil rights.

Warren Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer said Smith was taken to the hospital after the incident.

“He wasn’t hurt,” Dwyer said.

The civil complaint states Smith suffered traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional distress, facial contusions, abrasions, bruising and other injuries, pain and suffering, anxiety, mental anguish, emotional distress, fright, and shock.

Raechel M. Badalamenti, the attorney representing the city of Warren in this case, said, “I have not looked into any prior lawsuits regarding this officer.”

In addition, Badalamenti said, “This is not a common practice. This is not a practice at all.”

At a press conference in July, when asked if the Warren Police Department will implement new training in light of the Rodriguez case, Dwyer said, “We are ahead of the curve when it comes to training. We rate the highest in the state and the highest in the country. It took two years to get accreditation.”