Exclusive: Fired New Jersey officer says he wasn't involved in assault

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (WABC) -- A former Jersey City police officer is speaking exclusively to Eyewitness News about an assault that cost him his job.

Francisco Rodriguez said he was not involved in the assault on Miguel Feliz-Rodriguez, who had been mistaken for a suspect following a police chase in 2017, and he wants to clear his name.

"I, to this day, I felt like I was doing my job," he said. "My job was to protect and serve. I took an oath to protect and serve, and I felt like I did that. However, I wasn't treated with the same dignity and respect that I felt or I think that I deserve."

The incident made headlines because of a fiery crash and the beating of an innocent man, but Rodriguez claims he's paying for the poor actions of his supervisors and colleagues.

Rodriguez was terminated from his job because of his involvement with the chase that lead to the crash, but he says he never played any role in kicking the innocent victim.

"I've been quiet long enough, and I refuse to remain quiet," he said.

He was near the chase on June 4, 2017, that he says went on way too long -- and he heard more than a dozen shots fired. He also heard the call "shots fired"' over the police radio.

"It should've never gotten as far as it did," he said. "And unfortunately, I'm paying the price for it."

He says as he pulled up, he saw the vehicle wanted in the chase coming directly at him, so he fired one shot, missing the intended target.

From there, he said he backed up the continuing chase and eventually put handcuffs of the chase suspect, identified as Leo Pinkston. But he never saw his colleagues kicking Feliz-Rodriguez.

"If you're going to fire me for discharging my weapon, and missing, then the person who kicked the victim should be not only fired, but then he should also be charged criminally for assaulting an innocent victim," he said.

Rodriguez says he was never involved in the video that raised eyebrows about police misconduct, but when the case went through the legal system, he was cornered into taking a plea and losing his job -- while the person in charge that night, Lieutenant Keith Ludwig, seen on video going after the innocent victim, is still on the payroll for the department.

Rodriguez said he has been a pawn used by city leaders to clear the actions of a department that plays favorites.

"It was two of us who were pulled in to kind of protect the higher ranking officer who was actually on camera kicking the victim," he said.

He doesn't feel his action warranted his dismissal, especially while the person in charge is still getting paid.

"If anything, maybe some retraining," he said. "Maybe I should have been retrained. Maybe I should have been suspended."

The mayor's office issued a statement, saying, "Per the judge, Lieutenant Ludwig has until January 1, 2020, before he must cease employment with the city. Until then, he is working under Director Shea's direct authority."

The four officers did not face jail time as part of their plea agreement, but they were all barred from working in law enforcement.

Feliz-Rodriguez, 48, was beaten and dragged by officers while on fire following the crash, apparently mistaken for Pinkston, who crashed into his car and caused it to catch fire.

He was trapped inside, saying his seatbelt wouldn't release. He had to jump into the passenger seat and break out the window to escape -- all while his clothes were on fire.

When he finally got out, the Jersey City officers were caught on cellphone video kicking, beating and dragging him.

Feliz-Rodriguez suffered severe burns on his face and hands and had several broken ribs.

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