Forty-eight years after a Dallas cop playing Russian roulette shot and killed a 12-year-old boy, the police chief is finally apologizing to the child’s mother. “In order to heal, those who committed the wrong must be contrite,” Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia told Bessie Rodriguez on Saturday at her son’s gravesite at Oakland Cemetery. “On behalf of the Dallas Police Department, as a father, I am sorry. We are sorry that someone trusted to protect you, someone who wore the same uniform I proudly wear today took your son and took David’s brother away by way of murder.”
Santos Rodriguez had been pulled from his bed, handcuffed with his brother David, and held in the back of a Dallas police car early on July 24, 1973, when officer Darrell Cain resorted to the dangerous game in the hopes of getting the children to confess to stealing $8 from a vending machine at a local gas station, The Washington Post reported. The boys, both Mexican American, said they did not steal the money even after Cain pulled the trigger of his .357 Magnum once. “I am telling the truth,” Santos said in what were reportedly his last words.
Although Cain, who died in 2019, was convicted of murder with malice, he was only sentenced to five years in prison, and he ended up serving half of the time, The Dallas Morning News reported. The U.S. Department of Justice decided not to intervene in the case at the time, and a civil suit seeking less than $500,000 in damages failed, the newspaper reported. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote in a letter dated Aug. 17, 1978, and framed by Bessie Rodriguez that he didn’t ask the attorney general to prosecute Cain “nor should any President do so.” Carter said he expressed his “deep concern about the case” to the attorney general and asked him to review it. “I hope some measure of justice has been served by the vigorous state prosecution and the officer’s conviction of murder with malice,” Carter penned. “In the end, I realize no action could ever compensate for the needless loss of life. The grief which you feel is shared by all of us.”
Activists started a fundraising page for the Rodriguez family last year. “We are asking the community to come together and help raise funds to provide financial assistance to cover basic needs for the family of Santos Rodriguez,” activist Eva Arreguin wrote on the fundraising page. “We want to make sure his family knows they are not forgotten and more importantly that the community has their back. They deserve this and so much more.”
Garcia was the first police chief to make a public apology for Santos’ murder since his death, WFAA reported. Former Police Chief U. Reneé Hall attended a memorial event last year for Santos but wasn’t allowed to speak, The Dallas Morning News reported. Hall told Bessie Rodriguez after the event: “We were responsible then, and we are responsible now. We are committed to being a different police department. Please, believe that.”
Frances Rizo, a local leader who spoke at the memorial for Santos Saturday, told The Dallas Morning News the child’s death stunned Dallas, where police were already known for taking Black and Mexican Americans to the Trinity River to beat them. “I don’t think even the word assassination is strong enough,” Rizo said. When Santos was killed, his death “quickly galvanized Dallas’ then-small Mexican American community and religious leaders, who accused the city of operating a dual system of law enforcement,” journalist Dianne Solis wrote in The Dallas Morning News. “They noted that Cain also had killed Michael Morehead, a Black 18-year-old, in 1970.”
Chief Frank Dyson admitted to a dual standard in an interview with the newspaper published on July 27, 1973. “Dual standards do exist,” Dyson said in the article. “But we are going to do whatever is possible to eliminate them.”
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