Adrianah “Na Na” Rodriguez had watched videos of police brutality before.
But this one was different. It was too similar.
When she saw a Minneapolis police officer kill George Floyd on video, the 21-year-old black woman thought: That could have been me.
The parallels, she said, are uncanny. Rodriguez grew up in Casper. She moved to Minneapolis. Then, in December, she returned home.
Within weeks, Casper police officers broke up a party of about 10 people. They arrested Rodriguez on suspicion of interference, claiming she withheld her ID and resisted arrest. They booked two other partygoers on suspicion of misdemeanor marijuana possession.
The district attorney declined to prosecute.
In a legal notice sent Friday to the city, Rodriguez’s lawyers allege that the officer who arrested her – Michael Quirin, an 18-month veteran of the force – slammed the 110-pound woman to the ground after she told him to calm down. The document states he put his entire body weight on her back and wedged his knee into her neck, much like she later saw Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneel on Floyd, a black man, for nearly nine minutes until he stopped breathing. Chauvin now faces murder charges in the case.
The legal filing in Rodriguez’s case alleges that Quirin did not relent until a second officer intervened.
Rodriguez and her friends reported Quirin to the Casper Police Department within days of the incident. And, soon after, she hired the civil rights lawyer whose firm has previously helped negotiate large settlements with Wyoming law enforcement agencies – including more than $100,000 for the unlawful arrest of a man in Casper and $900,000 for a fatal Rawlins police shooting.
The filing her lawyer sent on Friday, which paves the way for a lawsuit, demands $685,000 from the Casper Police Department.
In a five-page written statement, the Casper Police Department said Quirin’s behavior was lawful but did not meet the agency’s standards. The situation was chaotic, police said, and officers were concerned about safety. Quirin, according to the statement, was suspended for a week without pay and underwent additional training before going back on the street. The second officer on the scene was not disciplined.
Rodriguez and her friends started talking with the Star-Tribune about the incident in January and their accounts of that night have been largely consistent. Police dispute some details in their stories — for example, police say Rodriguez tried to withhold her identification from Quirin.
Video evidence of the arrest exists, but it doesn’t appear likely to become public anytime soon.
Although officers were wearing body cameras at the time, Wyoming law allows police to decide when to release the footage. Neither Rodriguez nor her defense attorney has yet been provided that video. And in response to Star-Tribune requests, the department has declined to make the video public.
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Darold Killmer, accused police of trying to cover for the officer. He said that – contrary to the police statement – Quirin’s actions were illegal. And the police characterization of the incident, the lawyer contends, is “demonstrably false.”
“The fact that Casper published such a misleading public statement about the events should anger the community,” Killmer said in an email. “Such misrepresentation is the opposite of transparency.”
A party with friends
Rodriguez first described her arrest to the Star-Tribune two weeks after it happened.
She and a handful of other people – all older than 21, though none by more than a few years – spent the night of Saturday, Jan. 4 at some Casper bars. Early the following morning, they stopped by an east Casper apartment complex. Some of the attendees, including Rodriguez, knew the home’s residents. Some didn’t.
The music was loud. It was hard to hear. Some people were smoking marijuana. Partygoers were drinking from a bottle of tequila they passed around. Rodriguez said she drank through the night and was smoking marijuana.
Then, she and three other party attendees told the Star-Tribune, they heard someone knocking on the door. They looked through the window and saw two police officers outside.
According to police records, somebody in the area had complained about the noise.
Marcus “Birdy” Nolan, 23, told the Star-Tribune earlier this year that he was sitting at a table in the dining room when he heard knocking on the door. Another person looked and said: “Oh s---, it’s the cops,” Nolan recalled.
That person grabbed the weed and hid it. Outside, the knocks turned to bangs, before the officer smacked the window with what sounded like his baton, said Nolan, who acknowledged that he drank that night but did not smoke marijuana.
So Nolan, who didn’t live there, got up after about 30 seconds of knocking and announced: “I’m just gonna answer this.”
The police officer standing there – Quirin – said it smelled like pot and announced he was coming inside, Nolan said.
Alex Fuller, 24, had come to the apartment with Nolan, his childhood friend. When police arrived, Fuller said, he didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. He’d been drinking, but not using marijuana, he told the Star-Tribune. The music was loud and the apartment smelled like pot, he acknowledged. But everybody there was old enough to drink.
Quirin seemed angry, Nolan and Fuller said.
“He just had his voice up. He was just making a big deal out of it,” Fuller said. “I don’t know if he had a bad night or something. But I could tell from the start that this guy was kind of being the tough guy.”
According to Rodriguez, Quirin seemed ready to explode from the moment he walked in the door.
“He was wired. Like hot. Like he just came from a scene. Like he’s still wired from that one,” she said. “Right when he walked in, he was yelling.”
A second officer was more laid back, said partygoers. Police ultimately cleared that officer of any wrongdoing.
Quirin started asking who else was in the apartment. Nolan didn’t know. Nor did anyone else standing in the kitchen.
The police officer, Nolan said, began looking into the apartment’s other rooms. He pulled one man — whom Nolan didn’t then know, but was only wearing underwear — out of bed and into the kitchen area.
Rodriguez, Nolan recalled, already had her ID out.
She had been in the kitchen when police arrived, Rodriguez said. She said she took her identification out of her purse and when Quirin asked for it, she stepped up to hand it to him.
And this is where the official account diverges from what the partygoers remember.
Fuller was looking away, he said. He wasn’t paying close attention when Quirin ordered people to take out their identification.
But Nolan said he was standing near Rodriguez when she stepped up to hand Quirin her ID.
Quirin said something that Nolan didn’t hear. But Nolan said he didn’t miss the next phrase. Rodriguez responded: “Whoa. No, sir. I know my rights.”
That’s similar to what Rodriguez remembered saying. She thought the cop was going to get physical and she wanted to prevent that, she said.
“I just don’t let just anybody talk to me any certain way. Like I knew he had some kind of energy going on,” Rodriguez said in a January interview. “All I said to him: I know my rights. And you need to calm down. But he didn’t even let me finish.”
Nolan described what happened next: He saw Rodriguez take a half-step backward. Quirin said something that Nolan didn’t hear and then grabbed her by the arm, pulling it behind her back and upward.
Quirin told Rodriguez to stop resisting, Nolan said, but she wasn’t resisting. Quirin kicked her legs out from under her, forcing her to her knees and then slamming her to the ground, Nolan said. Rodriguez said she saw her earring fall off.
Then her friends started yelling.
“He puts one knee into her back and swings around and puts his other knee on her neck,” Nolan said. “Everybody’s like: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. What’re you doing? What’re you doing? What the f--k are you doing?”
Rodriguez remembers that Quirin grabbed her, pulled her and kicked her legs out from under her. She fell to the ground. He pinned her arms behind her back. He knelt, putting one knee on her lower back and another on her upper back and her neck, she told the Star-Tribune.
Fuller remembers hearing a commotion and looking to see Quirin knocking Rodriguez to the ground.
“He puts his knee on the back of her neck and he’s yelling at the top of his lungs. At this point her arms are behind her back, and she’s laying face down on the ground and the cop is yelling, ‘Stop resisting,’” Fuller said. “Which is ridiculous. I mean, she obviously wasn’t. He had his whole body weight on top of her. I think it was his way of covering his own ass.”
Fuller – who’d been on the phone with his father, a Casper criminal defense attorney — decided of his own initiative to intervene. He joined in shouting at the police officer. Quirin said that the next person to talk would get put in handcuffs, Fuller remembers. But he kept talking.
So Quirin handcuffed Fuller.
“She was obviously screaming and crying and everything like that and you know instead of caring about her safety, he’s yelling: ‘Stop resisting,’” Fuller said. “I wasn’t even there to be like, ‘Oh, get her out of those handcuffs,’ or anything like that. It was just like, ‘Just get off of her.’”
The officer’s account
Court documents filed shortly after the arrest describe Quirin’s justification for the use of force. In those documents, the police officer writes that Rodriguez had her ID in her hand but refused to turn it over.
The documents allege that other people in the apartment – including Nolan – yelled “their objections to Officer’s presence and actions.” Quirin states in the documents that he told Rodriguez to move away from the other people, but that she “resisted physically and objected verbally.”
Quirin then described the use of force:
“Officer Quirin instructed Adrianah to put her hands behind her back and advised her she would be in custody. Adrianah refused to comply with Officer Quirin’s instructions, and continued to twist and pull away. Officer Quirin obtained a control hold on Adrianah’s hand and arm, and lowered her to the floor. Officer Quirin then handcuffed Adrianah and attempted to get her to sit or stand.”
The court files indicate that Quirin arrested three people on misdemeanor allegations: Rodriguez, on suspicion of interference; her cousin, Ernesto, on suspicion of marijuana possession; and a second man, also on suspicion of marijuana possession.
Because the second man accused of marijuana possession did not respond to requests for comment – and because the dismissed charge would not be newsworthy outside of the circumstances of Rodriguez’s arrest – the Star-Tribune has chosen not to name him in this story.
The same court documents indicate that prosecutors on Jan. 10 – five days after the arrest – announced they would dismiss the charges. That filing, which is signed by District Attorney Dan Itzen, does not specify exactly why the charges were dropped.
“It is in the best interest of justice to dismiss this action,” the district attorney wrote in filings for each of the three cases.
Itzen on Friday said that his office was not involved in the police department’s internal affairs investigation. He said he did not recall why prosecutors dismissed the possession charges against the two men. As for Rodriguez, he said, they “looked at the case and didn’t think her conduct rose to the level of interference.”
When read the court documents, Rodriguez and Nolan said that Quirin in his sworn statements mischaracterizes and misstates the circumstances of the arrest.
“I think I read in the report that he was concerned for officer safety,” Nolan said. “And I just have a hard time believing that because of how compliant everyone was.”
Nolan insists the yelling didn’t begin until Quirin grabbed Rodriguez.
“I would really like to see the body cam on that, if we were yelling at this guy before he came in,” Nolan said. “Because that is not how I remember that happening. At all.”
Both Nolan and Rodriguez flatly deny that Rodriguez withheld her identification.
“Why would I take out my ID just to not give it to him?” Rodriguez asked. “Why would I go all up in my purse and do all that?”
In response to an emailed list of questions for this story, the Casper Police Department provided a five-page written statement to the Star-Tribune earlier this month. It is significantly more lengthy and detailed than police typically provide in response to press inquiries. The statement does not refer to Quirin by name.
Although the department stands by Quirin’s statement that Rodriguez withheld her identification, police in a follow-up email said they sustained the complaints against Quirin. He could have, according to a police spokeswoman, “de-escalated using strategies more in alignment with our values and training.”
According to the police department statement, the two officers on scene gathered the people into one area.
“As the officers were gathering the occupants together, the tone and the demeanor of those present began to escalate,” the agency said in its statement. “In response, the primary officer on the call also began to more forcefully give directions to the assembling group. Based upon their experience, and given the tight quarters inside the small apartment, the officers believed that the incident was rapidly changing and becoming even more chaotic as more and more of the adult males present joined in the demonstration of resistance to the officers’ presence and directions.”
The police state that Rodriguez presented her ID to Quirin before pulling it away and holding it behind her back.
“At that point, the primary officer chose to attempt an arrest of the adult female,” according to the police statement. “This attempted arrest erupted into a chaotic scene with multiple of the adult male occupants aggressively shouting while advancing on the officers and the officers shouting back at the occupants with orders for them to maintain their distance.”
According to the statement, once partygoers contacted the department to complain, administrators pulled Quirin from patrol and put him on desk duty. For a time, he was not allowed to wear a uniform or drive a marked department vehicle.
The investigation ultimately found – in part – that Quirin’s actions were inappropriate, but legal.
“As a result of the investigation, it was determined that the officers, having observed the unmistakable odor of marijuana emanating from the residence at the onset, lawfully entered the residence in furtherance of that investigation. However, working directly with the persons who were present during this investigation, it was the opinion of the Department that the demeanor of the primary officer was inconsistent with the Values, Mission Statement, and expectations of the Department and the expectations of our community,” the department said.
“Although the officer’s actions were consistent with constitutional laws governing police conduct, it was the opinion of the Department that his conduct did not rise to the higher standards of conduct expected at the Casper Police Department,” the statement continues. “Those higher standards include the expectation that, whenever possible, through their training and professionalism, officers should exhibit calm professionalism in the face of chaos. The Department also determined that the secondary officer acted according to policy and expectations.”
Ultimately, according to the statement, the department decided to order Quirin be more closely supervised and undergo additional training. He was placed on a 40-hour unpaid suspension, which the department says amounted to $1,000 in lost pay.
The entire department – as a direct result of the internal affairs investigation, police say – underwent additional training. Police say that, also as a result of the internal affairs investigation and in conjunction with the department, the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute the three people arrested in connection with the case.
Quirin completed the suspension and training, and is again working as a patrol officer. Before the January arrest, he had never faced discipline, the department said.
The Star-Tribune asked police if Quirin’s apparent decision to place his knee on the back of Rodriguez’s upper body was within department guidelines. In response, spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd said that police are highly trained in safe tactics, including “face down stabilization, which is a highly utilized, valid, and researched de-escalation tactic.” Ladd said police end the use of force immediately "once the individual is stabilized and compliant."
In a separate interview, Police Chief Keith McPheeters said that officers are instructed to avoid – in nearly all circumstances – contact with people’s necks.
In its statement, the police department said that – despite a historic reluctance to discuss discipline – it had decided to provide comment for this story in part to demonstrate that it was committed to transparency where possible.
“In this matter, it is the Department’s hope to demonstrate that the public’s confidence in the Department is a fundamental priority for the Department and, as such, the Department is committed to the constant review of, and improvement in, our services to the community,” the statement read. “We take citizen feedback seriously and move quickly to identify and resolve areas for improvement in our service to our community.”
Legal action ahead
Killmer, attorney at the Denver law firm representing Rodriguez, provided the Star-Tribune with a copy of the notice of claim that he sent Friday to the city of Casper. Such notices are a preliminary step toward filing a lawsuit against a government agency in Wyoming.
Killmer said by phone on Wednesday that his office has interviewed a number of the people on scene – including Fuller and Rodriguez – and that the lawyers “haven’t found any material distinctions between their versions of it.”
In a series of statements emailed this week, Killmer told the Star-Tribune that the police department is covering for Quirin. The lawyer wrote that Quirin’s alleged actions – including the use of force against Rodriguez – were unconstitutional. Killmer wrote that Quirin had no probable cause to arrest Rodriguez.
The police officer, Killmer alleges in the legal notice, lost his temper and retaliated when she said she knew her rights — speech protected by the First Amendment.
“The City’s reaction smacks of cover up and unwarranted protection for the officer that violated the Constitution and the CPD policies. Officer Quirin lost control of the situation, and his own misconduct caused the escalation of tensions that the officers then used to try to justify their grossly excessive use of force,” Killmer said in a written statement to the Star-Tribune. “Their presence in the house was constitutionally suspect, and the physical use of force and arrest against the occupants of the premises was illegal and shocking.
“Officer Quirin and the police department should apologize to Ms. Rodriguez,” the lawyer continued. “They violated her constitutional rights, causing substantial physical pain and trauma due to the assault and the subsequent arrest. All charges were dropped, because she was innocent. Casper cannot now hope to pretend that it just never happened.”
By phone, Killmer said that he hadn’t yet received body camera footage.
Although most records produced or held by government agencies in Wyoming are presumed available to the public, body camera footage is different. Legislators in 2017 created a special carve-out disallowing release of the footage unless the agency determines to do so is “in the interest of public safety.”
In other words, the Casper Police Department can decide whether to release the footage.
In the case of Rodriguez’s arrest, the agency has declined to provide the footage to the Star-Tribune. When the newspaper asked for reconsideration of that determination, the agency said it did not have resources available to redact the video and “protect the identities of those involved.”
Hope amid protests
Bruises on Rodriguez’s arms and along her ribs have healed. So have the scabs inside her ear piercing. But Rodriguez doesn’t think anybody will be able to understand how she feels. The internal affairs investigators seemed dismissive. She recently asked for a leave from work.
When she learned that Quirin was suspended for a week, she said she was surprised. She didn’t think there would be any accountability.
But the police statement fell short, she said. In her view, Quirin was the cause of chaos in the apartment, not the partygoers. And she doesn’t look forward to running into the officer on the street.
“That scares me because it’s a really small town,” she said. “I’m just worried for my community safety. Knowing that an officer like that is still out there.”
Earlier this month, Rodriguez joined crowds of people as they demonstrated in Casper against racism and police brutality, part of a nationwide groundswell in response to George Floyd’s death.
On June 3, she and her family listened to speakers on the steps of the Hall of Justice, which houses the Casper Police Department.
Two days later, she joined more than 700 people who marched a few blocks to the Hall of Justice. When McPheeters addressed the crowd, saying that he was “ashamed” to be associated by profession with the Minneapolis cop who killed Floyd, Rodriguez watched the chief closely.
She’s skeptical. She felt his heart – he was speaking from a good place. But she wasn’t fully convinced. It’ll take work to earn her trust.
But downtown, surrounded by hundreds of demonstrators, she felt hopeful. Many of the protesters didn’t know her. But she felt supported anyway.
“Everything going on is making me feel very much more powerful,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot more love on my side than I ever thought.”
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