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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

LASD Security Hold on Rodas Death Info Prevents Coroner Comment

• Representatives Discuss Department Misinformation at Malibu City Council Meeting

BY ANNE SOBLE

Finding Carlos Ivan Rodas’ body covered with blood outside Guido’s restaurant on Sunday, March 18, was a community tragedy that spiraled into local confusion and apprehension as the result of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department statements about the death of the seemingly healthy 32-year-old kitchen employee that appeared to contradict themselves as soon as they were issued.
Correcting first that Rodas was not the victim of a shooting, then that Rodas had not experienced a brutal beating by multiple assailants, the LASD now indicates the early suppositions were made without examining his body.
Last week, the LASD put a security hold on the county coroner’s office, preventing it from commenting on the case, even as the department announced Rodas had died from upper respiratory disease and no “criminal conduct” was involved.
However, as recently as Tuesday, Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told the Malibu Surfside News, “There is still a security hold on the case [and requests are to go to] the LASD for information involving this case.”
LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore told The News, “There is nothing nefarious about the hold. There is a lot of misinformation and we want to get it under control.” But it is now over a week later, and the gag on the coroner’s office is still in effect.
Following the initial rush of LASD reinterpretations, the City of Malibu issued a statement about the case, expressing disappointment with the “confusing and contradictory messages given to the media and public about this tragedy [because] the city’s goal is to get the most accurate and up to date information before disseminating it to the community.”
At this week’s city council meeting, the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station commander, Capt. Joe Stephen, told council members, “I apologize if there was perceived misinformation or fear in the Malibu community.” He said the coroner is currently conducting tests on “microscopic tissue [and LASD has] been assured they are going to expedite the tests.”
Homicide Lt. Eddie Hernandez, named by some outside media as the source of quotes triggering “murder in Malibu headlines,” also spoke Monday night.
Hernandez said investigations are “by nature complex [and] fluid,” then indicated he had not looked at the body when issuing the first statements attributed to him. Hernandez stated when he arrived, “The body was covered by a tablecloth [from Guido’s],” which he did not lift or pull back. An email from The News to the LASD to verify whether LASD protocol or coroner’s office directives expressly prohibit this action was not answered before the newspaper went to press. The newspaper’s inquiry about the propriety of conjecture being released to the media has also not received a reply.
The homicide detective said his misperceptions about possible assailants were influenced by the “acute observations” of a witness who was described as a schoolteacher whose family member was in a similar incident.
Rodas’ actual physical condition was not clarified until the next morning when a preliminary coroner visual exam determined there were “no external injuries.”
City council members did not ask the two men any questions about procedure or the ongoing investigation. Councilmember John Sibert, after referring to what he called the “‘Chicken Little’ response on the Internet,” said, “I wish we could get more info out quickly.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health has publicly declared that it has not found evidence of a public health or safety hazard as it awaits the DOC test results and no further action is expected until then.
Until the coroner’s lab results are in, local residents appear to be relying on the statement in the municipal press release, “The city will continue to collaborate closely with the Sheriff’s Department on communication to the public until the final medical report is issued that will separate the facts from fiction in this very confusing, yet tragic, case.”

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