By Maya Luna & Serran Soledad
After beating a false charge of attempted murder, Xavier Rodriguez and his family faced years of targeted harassment from members of the Santa Paula Police Department (SPPD), leading up to an instance of police brutality and wrongful arrest in October of 2019. Tribune of the People recently spoke with Xavier’s father, Robert Rodriguez, on the matter and obtained surveillance footage of the 2019 incident.
In 2011, Rodriguez was arrested by SPPD Detective Paul Spencer and charged with seven felonies in connection to an attempted murder, punishable by a life sentence. He served 18 months in jail before his father was able to prove his innocence with the help of two private detectives.
It was discovered that Spencer, who had arrested and testified against Rodriguez (along with multiple other officers), lied in court in an attempt to pin the charges on an innocent man. Spencer was demoted from detective by SPPD as a consequence of lying under oath, however all the officers involved remain on the SPPD payroll.
Xavier’s father Robert described eight years of retaliatory harassment and intimidation from Spencer and the SPPD: “We had to keep a really good eye out, if we seen him out on the streets we would let our family members know.” He continued, “He was one of those guys who just had a grudge against my family.”
Spencer’s continued harassment culminated in a 2019 incident in which Rodriguez was brutalized and wrongfully arrested by Spencer for a second time while Rodriguez’s family and close friends were having a Halloween party.
Surveillance footage shows the moment when two young men at the party walk towards the police vehicle. Moments later, Rodriguez is seen walking out of the house as well, before taking a step back when recognizing Officer Spencer.
Within seconds, another unmarked patrol car comes into view and all three officers can bee seen with their guns drawn, aimed at the men. Two of the men are immediately detained and sat on the curb, while Rodriguez’s hands are raised as a gun is still being pointed at him by an officer.
Under no provocation the officer appears to get in Rodriguez’s face, before slamming him to the ground. “He got his face bruised. He was already with his hands up on the floor, but they continued to put a knee in his back, and give him a little beating,” said Robert.
Minutes later, two more patrol cars arrive as Officer Spencer is seen getting behind one of the men on the curb, grabbing him by his shoulder and arm, before throwing him backwards to the ground and putting his knee on top of him. Along with Spencer, those involved in brutalizing the three men were Officers Daniel Potter, Sergio Gutierrez, and Evert Ponce.
Rodriguez and the two men were arrested and given various charges including ‘resisting arrest.’
That night, Rodriguez’s father went to the police station in an attempt to obtain information on the incident. After arriving, he approached Spencer: “I asked him what my son was arrested for, and he told me he couldn’t tell me… and I asked him a second question, is this personal? He started to yell and scream at me.. Pretty much kicked me out, and then he pulled a taser on me, with my daughter right behind me—and my daughter told him ‘You’re not gonna do that to my dad’.” Robert continued, “If it wasn’t for my daughter, if it wasn’t for the people being out there, he probably would have tased me.”
Community members provided the victims with multiple angles of surveillance footage, which was used in court to prove SPPD’s use of excessive force against the three men, resulting in the City of Santa Paula having to pay an undisclosed settlement.
Neither the wrongful arrest nor the instance of brutality against Rodriguez received coverage from local ruling-class news in Santa Paula.
“You read Santa Paula Times here in town, and they won’t cover these kind of stories, they stay away from it,” said Robert. “They call themselves a newspaper that covers what’s going on in the city, but they actually don’t… They want to publicize an officer giving away toys, ‘doing good’… They’ll do anything to avoid things [that] will hurt them.”
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