Shooting of Mona Rodriguez now a homicide investigation

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The shooting of Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez, the 18-year-old mother shot by a school safety officer in Long Beach, is being investigated as a homicide after she was taken off life support earlier this week, police said.

Rodriguez was shot by the school safety officer, identified by the Long Beach Unified School District as Eddie F. Gonzalez, while sitting in the passenger seat of a moving car on Sept. 27, authorities said. The shooting left her brain dead, her family said, and she spent more than a week on life support.

She died Tuesday after her heart, liver, lungs and two kidneys were harvested for donation to five people who needed organ transplants, according to a statement from her family’s lawyers.

Her death turned the shooting probe into a homicide investigation, police said. Detectives are working with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office on the investigation.

According to police reports and videos posted to social media, Gonzalez opened fire on the car as it sped from the scene of a fight between Rodriguez and an unidentified 15-year-old girl.

Rodriguez was struck in the upper body, police said. A hollow-point bullet exploded in her head, according to her family.

Police believe Rodriguez instigated the altercation with the other girl, and that her partner, Rafeul Chowdhury, 20, and his younger brother, Shahriear Chowdhury, 16, may also have played a role.

All three were in the car with Rafeul Chowdhury driving when the officer opened fire about a block away from Millikan High School. Chowdhury said no one in the car was armed.

“It was all for no reason,” he told reporters last week. “The way he shot at us wasn’t right.”

Rodriguez and the elder Chowdhury had a 5-month-old son, Isael.

Multiple law enforcement experts who reviewed videos said, based on the current evidence, the shooting appears unjustified. The shooting has drawn outcries from the community.

Gonzalez was fired by the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education during a unanimous, closed-session vote on Wednesday. District officials said he violated the district’s use-of-force policy, which states that officers shall not fire at a moving vehicle and may fire through a vehicle window only “as a final means of defense.”

Gonzalez could not be reached for comment.

In a tweet, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the district “absolutely made the right call” in firing Gonzalez.

“While the investigation continues to be handled by the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, I expect and support charges against this officer for his horrific actions,” Garcia said in a statement to The Times.

A D.A.’s spokesperson said the case had not been presented to the office. The Long Beach Police Department declined to provide a timeline for the investigation.

Policing expert Kalfani Turè said Friday that although the video appears to show an “incongruent level of force,” investigators will want to be meticulous and slow. Some in law enforcement may want to close ranks.

“This is the mentality of law enforcement writ large — they are frightened in this whirlwind of debates about police reports and bad representations of police to actually carry out their jobs,” said Turè, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice and Human Services at Mount Saint Mary’s University and a former police officer in Georgia.

The school district is a “separate government entity” from the Long Beach Police Department, the city has said, and Gonzalez was not employed by the city of Long Beach.

Yet Turè said he could still be seen as “one of us.”

“This profession … demands that officers receive the benefit of the doubt, and that accountability flows in accordance with the culture of policing,” he said.

Investigators are likely combing through his past employment records and reviewing the video footage in detail, he said. The Times confirmed that Gonzalez was briefly employed by by the Los Alamitos and Sierra Madre police departments before moving to Long Beach Unified.

Dozens of residents condemned the officer’s actions during a school board meeting on Wednesday.

“It hurts me that this happened — that a mother had to leave her child orphaned,” one woman told the board. “I am here to ask that the security officers are unarmed, because after all this is a school, not a jail, and this event could have been prevented.”

Dr. Kim Tabari told the board that she is the parent of a young Black high school student in the district and that she often worries about her son’s safety around campus security officers. School police programs have been roundly criticized by civil rights groups for disproportionately targeting Black and Latino students.

“Our community is deeply fractured and grieving,” Tabari said. “I am asking that you remove guns and other weapons from school campuses.”

The Board of Education removed three Long Beach Police officers that were stationed at Long Beach high schools last year, district spokesman Chris Eftychiou said, but school safety officers remained on campuses.

On Wednesday, a group of parents and activists filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that Black and Latino students also face greater discrimination in disciplinary practices including expulsion and suspension.

Lucas Higbee, a teacher at Millikan High School, said during Wednesday’s board meeting that issues of inequity are often analyzed in classrooms, but that the biggest injustice is the “$1.5 million that the district is spending every year on these officers that clearly are not keeping our students safe and are endangering our community.”

Higbee spoke in favor of removing school security officers and dismantling the program.

Additionally, he said, “we must completely disarm all district employees so that no further students or community members are harmed.”

Times staff writer Leila Miller contributed to this report.

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