By Marek Mazurek | South Bend Tribune
Dec. 3, 2020
Rodney Applewhite planned to drive from South Bend to Arizona to visit his family outside Phoenix for Thanksgiving.
On Nov. 19, while driving near Los Lunas, N.M., Applewhite was pulled over by New Mexico State Police for a traffic stop.
Police say Applewhite, 25, who attended both Niles and Clay high schools, fled and later got into a fight with officers trying to arrest him. During the scuffle, police say, Applewhite grabbed an officer’s gun.
Another officer then shot Applewhite, who died at the hospital.
Applewhite’s family in Arizona did not find out about his death for hours. His aunt, Sherian McCray, got worried about his absence and began checking with police dispatchers and news stations.
When McCray saw that an unidentified male had been shot by New Mexico State Police, she told Katrina Cox, her sister and Applewhite’s mother, to look at the news.
“She went to scream, ‘That’s his car, that’s his car. That’s my son, he’s dead,'” McCray recalled.
McCray was on a video call with Cox, who moved to the Phoenix area a few a years ago, when an officer from the state police confirmed Applewhite was the man who had died. McCray, though, said the agency has not provided any information beyond a brief public release.
“We want answers,” McCray said. “We don’t know why someone at a traffic stop had to be killed.”
New Mexico State Police posted a press release about the shooting immediately after the incident but did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
According to the release, a New Mexico State Police officer tried to pull over a gray Chrysler on the Manzano Expressway in Los Lunas. The release does not say what the traffic stop was for.
The car drove off and the officer pursued, attempting to use a “tire deflation” device, which the car avoided by driving into oncoming traffic. State police then called off the pursuit, the release said.
Less than 15 minutes later, officers received reports of a male standing in the middle of the expressway trying to stop traffic. Two officers arrived on the scene and attempted to arrest Applewhite, but he resisted, the release said. Applewhite and an officer got into a “physical altercation” and Applewhite grabbed the officer’s gun.
The second officer then fired “at least one round,” striking Applewhite, according to the release. The officers attempted to treat Applewhite until EMS transported him to a hospital in Albuquerque, where he died. The incident is under investigation by the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau.
The release does not say that Applewhite had a weapon at the time of his death. New Mexico State Police have also not publicly released Applewhite’s name; his family and friends have revealed his identity.
“They should definitely be more forthcoming about what happened,” said Rahmon Mallard, a friend of Applewhite’s since high school. “They have Mace, they have Tasers. Rodney did not have a weapon on him. Why couldn’t you pull out a Taser and tase him if he so happened to reach for a cop’s weapon?”
Mallard believes Applewhite may have fled from the traffic stop because he was scared of going back to jail.
Applewhite pleaded guilty to robbery in 2015, stemming from an incident where two of his friends robbed a house party with an unloaded gun while Applewhite waited outside in the getaway car. Applewhite was still on probation, according to court records.
Mallard and McCray described Applewhite as a charismatic man who enjoyed making music and was close to his family.
“He just wanted to be successful and provide for his mom and sister,” Mallard said.
Applewhite attended Niles High School for two years before transferring to Clay High School, where he played football and basketball. Since January, Applewhite had worked at a Hacienda restaurant and a factory in Elkhart, Mallard said.
McCray recalled that Applewhite had a special affinity for pets, telling the story of how a puppy, Max, she got for her daughters quickly took to Applewhite, who eventually adopted the Shih Tzu.
“Animals and him were just the closest of close friends,” McCray said.
Applewhite’s funeral is scheduled for Monday in Phoenix.