Murder charges were filed against a former school safety officer who shot an 18-year-old mother in Southern California last month, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office announced Wednesday.
The officer, Eddie F. Gonzalez, was fired from his position one day after shooting Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez on Sept. 27.
A bullet fired by Gonzalez hit Rodriguez “in the upper body” as she and two friends drove away from an off-campus parking lot near Millikan High School, according to the Long Beach Police Department. Gonzalez, who was driving nearby, stopped after witnessing a fight between Rodriguez and a 15-year-old girl, according to police.
Rodriguez, the mother of a 5-month-old boy, was taken off life support and died Oct. 5.
Oscar Rodriguez, the brother of Mona, spoke after the charges were announced.
“My sister was amazing. She was a person to help me out in my times of trouble as a young child,” he said. “She was there for me, and now that she’s gone I don’t know how to heal. This type of criminal action should not be allowed in our state, in our country.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced the charge of one count of murder during a news conference in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.
“We must hold accountable the people we have placed in positions of trust to protect us,” Gascón said. “That is especially true for the armed personnel we traditionally have relied upon to guard our children on their way to and from and at school.”
Calls to end having armed officers in schools grew during the social activism surge that followed the 2020 police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but criticism of school police spending and law-enforcement practices on campuses began earlier. A 2019 American Civil Liberties Union study advocated a shift in spending from campus policing to mental health professionals.
The “prioritization of school police is troubling, not only for the lack of mental health support for our nation’s students, but also given that research indicates school police do not reduce mass shootings and instead contribute to less inclusive school climates,” the report said.
Luis Carillo, a lawyer representing the Rodriguez family, commented on the charges following the announcement.
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“This is the beginning of justice for Mona, her mother and the entire Rodriguez family,” he wrote in a statement. “But it took too long to arrest the man who unjustly killed Mona Rodriguez.”
In dismissing Gonzalez from his job after Rodriguez’s death, the district found that he violated policy forbidding an officer from firing at a fleeing person, a moving vehicle or through a vehicle window unless such action is warranted as “a final means of defense.”
Gonzalez had passed all his background checks and his required training had been confirmed before he was hired in January, according to Superintendent Jill A. Baker.
He was a safety officer employed by a school district, which is different from school resource officers, who are federally defined as being fully sworn, certified law enforcement officers deployed by a law enforcement agency to perform community-based policing on a school campus.
Gonzalez is expected to be arraigned Friday, the district attorney’s office said.
Contributing: Bill Keveney, USA TODAY; The Associated Press