Dallas Police Chief Apologizes for 1973 Murder of Santos Rodriguez by Darrell Cain

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Santos Rodriguez was being questioned successful a theft lawsuit erstwhile the officer, Darrell Cain, who was playing Russian roulette with his gun, fatally changeable him.

Bessie Rodriguez, center, with the Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia, right, during a memorial work  for her son, Santos, astatine  Oakland Cemetery successful  Dallas connected  the 48th day  of his death.
Credit...Keren Carrión/KERA News

Neil Vigdor

Published July 28, 2021Updated July 29, 2021, 12:28 p.m. ET

It was a sidesplitting that outraged a metropolis and aboriginal drew the attraction of a president: A 12-year-old lad was changeable successful the caput by a Dallas constabulary serviceman playing Russian roulette with his work revolver successful a patrol car.

The boy, Santos Rodriguez, who was Mexican American, had been handcuffed and interrogated by the achromatic serviceman implicit the theft of $8 from a state presumption vending machine, a petty transgression that helium maintained helium had not committed. His older brother, David, who had besides been placed successful custody, watched from the patrol car’s backmost seat.

Now, 48 years later, the Dallas constabulary main has done thing that his predecessors implicit the decades could not oregon would not do. He apologized connected Saturday to Santos’s mother, Bessie Rodriguez, during a graveside memorial work marking the day of the boy’s death.

“On behalf of the Dallas Police Department, arsenic a father, I americium sorry,” Chief Eddie Garcia told Ms. Rodriguez. “We are atrocious that idiosyncratic entrusted to support you, idiosyncratic who wore the aforesaid azygous that I proudly deterioration contiguous took your lad and took David’s member distant by mode of murder.”

Ms. Rodriguez, 77, received a bouquet of flowers and a constabulary escort to Oakland Cemetery, wherever friends and assemblage members recalled a young beingness that had been chopped short.

Chief Garcia was conscionable a toddler erstwhile Santos was changeable to decease by Darrell Cain, the now-deceased serviceman who served conscionable fractional of a five-year situation condemnation aft being convicted of execution with malice successful transportation with Santos’s death. But the chief, who was appointed this twelvemonth and is the archetypal Latino to pb the department, told Ms. Rodriguez, “This was the archetypal past acquisition that I got erstwhile I got here.”

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Credit...Keren Carrión/KERA News

The acknowledgment of culpability by the caput of 1 of the nation’s largest constabulary departments came amid a nationalist reckoning implicit the usage of deadly unit by officers and organization racism aft the sidesplitting of George Floyd successful Minneapolis past year. It has prompted akin apologies from constabulary leaders and elected officials for constabulary brutality and different misconduct.

It was not the archetypal clip that a Dallas authoritative had offered specified an apology. In 2013, Michael S. Rawlings, who was politician astatine the time, expressed his remorse implicit the killing, which had acceptable disconnected protests successful the city.

Ms. Rodriguez could not beryllium instantly reached for remark connected Wednesday, but she told The Dallas Morning News aft the work that Chief Garcia had been precise respectful.

“I person to forgive to beryllium forgiven,” she said.

In the aboriginal greeting hours of July 24, 1973, officers responded to a state presumption successful what is present the Uptown conception of Dallas aft $8 had been stolen from a vending machine, according to accounts fixed by the constabulary astatine the time.

After seeing immoderate boys tally from the country but losing them successful the darkness, officers — who said that they had recognized them — went to the location of 1 of Santos’s relatives, with whom helium and his member had been living, and received support to question the siblings.

While trying to coerce Santos into a confession, the authorities said, Mr. Cain pointed his .357 Magnum astatine the backmost of his head, pulling the trigger. But the enclosure was empty. The 2nd clip helium pulled the trigger, the limb discharged, sidesplitting Santos.

“I don’t deliberation that adjacent the connection assassinated is beardown enough,” Frances Rizo, a assemblage activistic who spoke astatine the work connected Saturday, said of Santos’s killing.

In an interrogation connected Wednesday, Ms. Rizo said that determination had been lone 2 oregon 3 Latino officers successful the Dallas Police Department astatine the time. She commended Chief Garcia for his apology.

“It took a Latino constabulary main to person the guts to travel retired and bash it,” she said. “He brought Latino officers to the lawsuit arsenic well.”

Two days aft the shooting, The Morning News reported that fingerprints that had been taken astatine the state presumption did not lucifer those of Santos.

To the consternation of Bessie Rodriguez, the Justice Department declined to prosecute national civilian rights charges against Mr. Cain, who died successful 2019. It prompted her aboriginal to nonstop a missive to President Jimmy Carter, who wrote backmost to her successful 1978 saying that helium understood her disappointment.

“I anticipation immoderate measurement of justness has been served by the vigorous authorities prosecution and the officer’s condemnation of execution with malice,” Mr. Carter wrote. “In the end, I recognize nary enactment could ever compensate for the needless nonaccomplishment of life. The grief which you consciousness is shared by each of us.”

Mr. Cain had antecedently been charged successful the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old Black man, but a expansive assemblage did not instrumentality an indictment against him.

In Dallas, a recreation halfway has been named aft Santos, and a memorial statue for him is nearing completion.

“I recognize that we person not healed yet arsenic a metropolis from the nonaccomplishment of Santos and the mode successful which we mislaid Santos,” Chief Garcia said. “In bid to heal, those who person committed the incorrect indispensable beryllium contrite.”

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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