Family of Teen Shot by School Safety Officer Prepares to Pull Plug

·6 min read
Family handout
Family handout

An 18-year-old woman shot earlier this week by a school safety officer in Long Beach, California, will be taken off life support after her body is prepared for organ donation, a family spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast.

Mona Rodriguez was shot Monday afternoon while sitting in a car near Long Beach’s Millikan High School. Police say she was shot in the upper body. Rodriguez’s family says she was shot in the head.

The Long Beach Unified School District identified the officer involved as Eddie F. Gonzalez. He started the job on Jan. 10, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The transition has begun,” Jerlene Tatum, a community activist who has been by the Rodriguez family’s side for several days, said in a text message.

At a news conference outside the hospital on Friday afternoon, Iran Rodriguez, Mona’s brother, said his sister would have wanted her organs to go to others in need. Once doctors complete that process, Mona will be taken off life support sometime in the next 24 to 72 hours, her brother said.

Mona, who was planning to move to Kansas and start a new life with her boyfriend and 5-month-old son, was “a family-oriented person,” Rodriguez’s cousin Maria Ramirez told The Daily Beast, adding that Mona “was always sweet, always wanted to be part of everything we had going on.”

“We gave them the okay [to disconnect the machines] this morning,” and the family spent the day saying their goodbyes, Ramirez said.

California Teen on Life Support After Being Shot by School Safety Officer While She Was Driving Away

The deadly incident occurred a few minutes after 3 p.m. on Sept. 27, when an officer working for the Long Beach Unified School District spotted Rodriguez fighting a 15-year-old girl walking away from Millikan High. Rodriguez, who is not a student there, got out of a gray sedan parked by a nearby shopping center to confront the younger girl, according to local reports. The officer allegedly warned the pair he would pepper spray them if they didn’t break it up. Rodriguez got back in the gray car, which then began pulling away, video from the incident shows. That’s when the officer, who was standing beside the front passenger door, where Rodriguez was sitting, can be seen in bystander video firing two shots at the moving vehicle.

“While the motive for the assault remains under investigation, detectives believe the suspect and victim are known to each other, and the 18-year-old female adult suspect initiated the assault,” the Long Beach Police Department told The Daily Beast in an emailed statement.

Luis Carrillo, a lawyer representing Rodriguez’s family, told The Daily Beast the officer should be arrested, and “doesn't have any business carrying a badge or wearing a gun.” On Thursday, Carrillo sent a letter to California Attorney General Rob Bonta demanding an investigation into the shooting, which he said meets the legal threshold for murder or manslaughter charges against the officer.

Tatum, who herself attended Millikan High, said they had been pressuring for the officer’s name to be released. Others in the area are also alarmed at what they view as stonewalling by the school district.

“We are very concerned about the lack of transparency,” local civil rights activist Najee Ali, who has appeared at press conferences with the Rodriguez family, told The Daily Beast. “We believe identifying him is important to see if he has a prior disciplinary history or complaints against him.” (Ali is acting independently and does not speak for the Rodriguez family, Carrillo emphasized.)

Ali is optimistic that the officer will be charged with a crime, he said.

“The whole country saw this officer shoot an unarmed woman in the back of her head as she’s putting her seat belt on, through the back window of the car,” said Ali.

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The Long Beach Unified School District has nine full-time and two part-time safety officers on the payroll, and four supervisors above them. They do not work for the Long Beach Police Department, which is considered a separate entity. School safety officers in Long Beach are not peace officers, but they do receive police academy training—albeit an abbreviated curriculum from that which full-fledged cops get—and are armed. Monday’s shooting was the first by a Long Beach school safety officer since the unit was founded three decades ago.

A retired Long Beach school safety officer told the Los Angeles Times that members of the tiny force are instructed not to get involved with things occurring away from the campus, and can detain people but are not authorized to make actual arrests. The retired officer, who asked not to be named, told the Times that the officer involved in Monday’s shooting should never have drawn his weapon in the first place.

“What that officer did was completely out of line of the protocol,” he said.

The Long Beach chapter of Black Lives Matter on Friday demanded that school employees, including school security officers, be prohibited from carrying any weapons whatsoever, including guns, batons, pepper spray, and so forth.

At a Long Beach Board of Education workshop in August 2020, Thomas Hickman, chief of school safety and emergency preparedness for the Long Beach Unified School District, said, “There’s a couple of key points we have to recognize. Number one, I think the model we have at Long Beach Unified is a model of safety as opposed to enforcement. And I think you’re going to see that happening at more and more school districts. I’ve been contacted by two school districts in the last 60 days that asked questions about the model we have, versus a traditional law enforcement model that many districts still follow.”

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The shooting of Mona Rodriguez prompted Los Angeles community organizer Cliff Smith to plan a rally in Long Beach this Sunday, demanding the “immediate arrest and prosecution” of the officer in question. (The Rodriguez family is not formally affiliated with Sunday’s protest, according to Carrillo.)

“To us, it’s evident that there was no justification for the lethal use of force, and the safety officer committed a crime,” Smith told The Daily Beast. “And not only killed Mona, but endangered many other people. The district attorney, George Gascon, replaced the incumbent district attorney last year on a campaign specifically about holding police officers accountable for these types of crimes—and he hasn't yet prosecuted any police officers himself.”

Meanwhile, the Rodriguez family is “devastated and distraught,” according to Ali.

“This has devastated the entire family because no one saw this coming,” he said. “Not only did she lose her life at such a young age, just barely an adult herself, the fact is that her life was taken unjustly by someone who is supposed to protect lives.”

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