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CrimeBeat: What became of the Rohnert Park police encounter caught on video?

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CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature in which police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.

What has become of the case and lawsuits involving a cellphone video taken by Rohnert Park resident Don McComas of his encounter with Officer Dave Rodriguez, who unholstered his gun?

— Eric Fransen, San Rafael

Rohnert Park resident Don McComas pulled out his cellphone on July 29, 2015, outside his Hermitage Way home and recorded an encounter he had with a police officer who pulled out his gun and held it during an uneasy two-minute discussion and argument. No one was arrested during the incident, and the city has said Officer Dave Rodriguez was in the neighborhood looking for parking violations and perceived McComas’ behavior as suspicious.

McComas posted his video online and it went viral — at one point reaching 500,000 views.

In May, McComas filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging Rodriguez violated his right to free speech and assembly.

McComas’ lawyer, Daniel Beck, said his client was “standing on his driveway, hooking up his boat, doing nothing wrong. Officer Rodriguez pulled up in front of McComas’ house, exited the vehicle, approached Mr. McComas in at threatening manner with his gun drawn.”

Beck said he believes McComas was being harassed because he had been critical of a police department investigation of his son, who was charged with felony crimes in a case that was ultimately dismissed.

“This officer was out to intimidate and to cause Mr. McComas fear for no reason,” Beck said. “If not for the video, then what you would have would be Mr. McComas’ word against the police officer.”

The city hired private investigators to conduct an internal review that found Rodriguez followed department policy. The city announced the investigators’ findings, released one year ago, that it was “reasonable” for Rodriguez “to un-holster his duty weapon at the point he did during the encounter with the resident.”

The city review reported no evidence of harassment and said Rodriguez contacted McComas “for legitimate reasons and not for the purpose of harassing or mistreating the resident.”

Rodriguez retired earlier this year, said Don Schwartz, assistant city manager of Rohnert Park. He did not know exactly when. Rodriguez’s lawyer couldn’t be reached Tuesday.

The federal civil rights lawsuit is in the discovery phase — document-gathering and fact-finding. The case has a trial date set for May in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Julie Johnson at julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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