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Eulizez Rodriguez, 24
Desert Hot Springs, California
August 22, 2013

Agencies: Desert Hot Springs Police Department - California

Last updated: 5 months ago

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Officer Miguel Preciado has been cleared of all criminal culpability in the death of Eulizez Rodriguez, 24, who was shot in the early morning hours of Aug. 22, 2013. John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, confirmed the decision on Friday.

The events of the fatal shooting began shortly after midnight, when police officers spotted a stolen car on Hacienda Avenue. Police tried to pull over the car, but it fled toward El Cajon Drive, where the car crashed. Two men then jumped out of the vehicle and ran away.

From this point, the story of this shooting diverges into two very different versions. According to law enforcement, Rodriguez was armed with two handguns, and he attacked a police officer in the moments before Preciado shot him. However, Rodriguez’s family says the opposite, insisting in federal court documents that their loved one was unarmed, and that he posed no threat to the pursuing officers.

Although Rodriguez was killed 16 months ago, law enforcement released the details of his death for the first time on Friday. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which independently investigated the case, finally explained the shooting, saying that officers were forced to open fire to protect themselves.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Manning said Rodriguez drew a handgun during the foot chase, then struggled with a pursuing officer, who attempted to wrestle the gun away from the suspect.

During the struggle, a second officer — Preciado — arrived at the scene, then shot Rodriguez to save the first officer, Manning said. After the shooting, police found a second handgun tucked in Rodriguez’s waistband.

Five months after the shooting, Rodriguez’s sister, Elydia Berling, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Desert Hot Springs, claiming her brother’s death was unjustifiable. In that case, attorneys argue that Rodriguez had no weapon, made no aggressive movements toward police officers and that officers had no reason to defend themselves with deadly force.

The lawsuit has been in holding pattern for since March, waiting for prosecutors to decide whether or not to prosecute Preciado. Now that the decision has been made, the suit will likely proceed in federal court.

Berling, 37, who lives in Cincinnati, said she was more of a second mother than a sister to Rodriguez. His father was “out of the picture,” so Berling worked side-by-side with her mother to raise her brother. She use to call him her “little man.” He would joke she was his “sister mom.”

But Rodriguez also had a troubled side. Berling said her brother served several short jail terms in the years before his death. On the day he was shot, Rodriguez had a pending warrant for drug and gun crimes.

But none of that excused the shooting, Berling said. Her brother may have had a rap sheet, but he didn’t deserve to die for it, she said.

“It’s been really hard,” Berling said Friday. “There is an emptiness that doesn’t go away. It’s like I buried my own child. And there have been no answers. The police department never gave me any condolences. They wouldn’t even speak to me.”

The decision not to prosecute Preciado comes at a time when police shootings have faced more public outrage and media scrutiny than ever before. Major protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York have elevated police shootings to a national debate, and damaged nationwide trust in law enforcement.

Protests continued on Friday night, and will likely extend through the weekend.

Berling said she feels like a kindred spirit to the families whose loved ones were slain in Ferguson and New York. Although the circumstances surrounding the deaths may be different, the families all share the same loss and the same anger.

“Our justice system is broken. Police are killing our family members,” Berling said. “I feel sympathy for (the other families) because I feel their pain. I know what they are going through. But I also feel cheated because they have more interest than we do. We still don’t have answers, and we’ve been waiting longer.”

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December 2014 officer cleared