Police deemed Refugio Rodriguez's death a suicide, not a murder. Now Minnesota BCA will review the case
BCA will review the Montevideo police investigation into the death of Refugio Rodriguez, after a Forum News Service investigation revealed concerns about police work, 'suicide' designation.
MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will review a local police investigation into the suspicious death of a man in Montevideo, Minnesota, following reporting by Forum News Service into the matter and a request by the Montevideo Police Department, its chief said Monday, Feb. 27.
Montevideo police had previously investigated the Sept. 20, 2020, death of Refugio Rodriguez along a Chinhinta Park walking path, deemed it a suicide and closed the case. But in recent months, Forum News Service looked into the matter with the support of Rodriguez’s family.
Exclusive reporting showed police didn't follow up on likely credible leads and crucial evidence collected at the scene that could indicate Rodriguez was murdered. Crucial details of the crime scene also contradicted the medical examiner’s final summary.
“The Montevideo Police Department has asked the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to review Refugio Rodriguez’s death investigation to determine whether the cause of death was indeed suicide,” Montevideo Police Chief Ken Schule said in a emailed statement to Forum News Service. “The BCA has agreed to review this investigation.”
Rodriguez’s mother, Elouise Rodriguez, believes someone killed her son. Her grief has been compounded by frustration with the investigation into her son’s death. She hopes the BCA review provides answers regarding his death.
“I’m happy,” she said in an interview with Forum News Service. “I just want justice for my son. I just want justice for him.”
Reporting found oversights, under-fire investigator
According to the original police incident report, Rodriguez, 36, was found hanging from a tree by a passerby. Schule said in a recent interview with Forum News Service that Rodriguez was found on his knees, with a hose attached to a tree wrapped around his neck.
Investigative documents obtained by Forum News Service revealed Rodriguez feared for his life in the days, weeks and months before his death. He believed someone was going to kill him because of his alleged work as a confidential informant.
Three individuals interviewed separately by Carmen Beninga, the lead Montevideo police investigator on the case, provided her with the same name of the individual who threatened to kill Rodriguez. One more individual provided the same story, without a name. More than one person interviewed provided names of accomplices.
The Forum News Service investigation found nobody at the Montevideo Police Department attempted to speak with the potential suspects.
Forum News Service reporting also showed Beninga was handed the investigation into Rodriguez’s death while she was under fire for a flawed investigation that led to a voided search warrant in a separate matter.
Days before Beninga closed Rodriguez’s case, a judge determined she negligently falsified a search warrant, resulting in a 2019 raid of a Montevideo family’s home.
District Court Judge Thomas Van Hon claimed Beninga “had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information she reported.” He described her actions as reckless.
Nearly the entirety of Beninga's investigation into Rodriguez’s death was conducted while her investigative skills, related to the 2019 raid and voided search warrant, were being questioned, by a judge, in court.
The Montevideo Police Department hasn't responded to repeated requests to comment on the matter and explain why Beninga was in charge of the Rodriguez investigation.
The death of Refugio Rodriguez has been the center of an ongoing Forum News Service print and podcast series.
- To read Part 1, go here . To read Part 2, go here .
- To listen to the first episode, go here | Also available on Apple podcasts and Spotify
- To listen to the second episode, go here | Also available on Apple podcasts and Spotify