The family of an 18-year-old mother who was left brain dead after she was shot by a Long Beach school safety officer said Friday that she would be taken off life support in the next few days and called for the officer to be criminally charged in the case.
Mona Rodriguez, the mother of a 5-month-old boy, will probably remain on life support for the next 72 hours while her body is prepared for organ donation, family members and their attorney said at a news conference outside Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. The family visited with Rodriguez earlier to say their goodbyes.
“I raised that little girl,” said Iran Rodriguez, her older brother, who attended the news conference with his brother Oscar. “The officer needs to be charged.”
Mona Rodriguez was involved in a fight with a 15-year-old girl in a parking lot near Millikan High School on Monday afternoon, then got into a gray sedan with two teenage males, said Long Beach Police Department spokesperson Arantxa Chavarria. As the sedan sped away with Rodriguez in the passenger seat, the school safety officer began shooting.
Video posted to social media appears to show the officer firing at least two shots at the vehicle after it already passed him. Rodriguez was hit in the back of the head by one of the shots.
No evidence has emerged that anyone involved in the fight was armed, and a friend of the driver said no one in the car that drove off attended Millikan High. In the video, screaming can be heard from inside the car as the passengers inside realize Rodriguez is critically wounded.
Luis Carrillo, the Rodriguez family’s attorney, called on California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to open an independent investigation into the shooting. The Long Beach Police Department and Los Angeles County district attorney‘s office are conducting their own investigation of the case.
In a letter to the attorney general, Carrillo said that Rodriguez did not pose an imminent threat to the officer and that the use of force was unjustified. He suggested the officer’s actions “meet the threshold for criminal charges,” including murder or manslaughter.
“This officer had no business carrying a badge and gun,” Carrillo said at Friday’s news conference. “She was no imminent threat when this criminal officer went boom!”
Late Friday, the school district, in response to a Times request, identified the officer as Eddie F. Gonzalez. He started with the district Jan. 10 and has been placed on leave pending the outcome of multiple investigations.
According to a use-of-force policy from Long Beach Unified’s school safety office, officers are not permitted to fire at a moving vehicle. Firearms may be discharged only when reasonably necessary and justified under the circumstances, such as self-defense and the protection of others, the policy states. The policy also bars shooting at fleeing suspects.
Chris Eftychiou, a spokesman for the Long Beach Unified School District, told The Times on Thursday that the school district was “carefully reviewing multiple aspects” while cooperating with the Long Beach Police Department.
The Times reached out to multiple law enforcement experts who reviewed the videos and they all said, based on the current evidence, that the shooting appears unjustified. Police agencies across the nation have sought to restrict shooting at moving vehicles, accounting for 16% of all fatal police uses of deadly force since 2015.
Seth Stoughton, a former Florida police officer and a University of South Carolina law professor who studies police use of force, said most law enforcement training today strongly discourages officers from firing at a moving vehicle, which is “highly unlikely to actually stop the car and risks making the situation worse.”
“Officers can use deadly force when they reasonably believe the subject presents an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm,” he said, noting that although the car was turning right while the officer was standing on the passenger’s side, “the threat was minimal and all he had to do to make it nonexistent was slide back slightly.”
By the time the officer began firing, he already was near the back of the car, Stoughton added.
“The car isn’t a threat, so there is no justification for the use of deadly force here.”
Rodriguez’s 20-year-old partner, Rafeul Chowdhury, said that he was driving the car and that his 16-year-old brother, Shahriear Chowdhury, was in the back seat when shots were fired.
The officer had threatened to use pepper spray to break up the fight between Rodriguez and a girl, who was not identified, the elder Chowdhury said, but he did not indicate he was armed. No one in the car had a gun, he said.
The Long Beach school district employs nine full-time and two part-time safety officers, as well as four supervisors. Monday’s incident is the first shooting involving a safety officer in the program’s 30-year existence, Eftychiou said.
A retired Long Beach Unified school safety officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said officers go through a police academy followed by a short probationary period, but their training is “not anywhere close” to what officers at the Long Beach Police Department and similar agencies receive.
School safety officers were told not to engage in issues off campus, he said. They can detain people but cannot make arrests beyond citizen’s arrests.
The retired officer, who said he spent more than a dozen years in the same position as the officer involved in Monday’s shooting, said he studied videos of the shooting from various angles and felt the officer was in the wrong — both for unholstering his weapon and for firing it.
“What that officer did was completely out of line of the protocol,” he said.
Retired Los Angeles Police Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey watched cellphone videos of the shooting and said, “there was no imminent threat to his life as the car sped away from him.”
In a statement, the city of Long Beach called the shooting a “horrific incident” that has affected many in the community. Mayor Robert Garcia said on Twitter that the city was “heartbroken” over the events.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist with legal and funeral expenses, as well as child care for Rodriguez and Chowdhury’s 5-month-old son.