A California teen is brain dead and on life support after being shot by a school safety officer, her family says—and they want the officer held to account.
Mona Rodriguez, 18, was shot Monday afternoon while in a vehicle near Millikan High School in Long Beach. Police claim she was shot in the upper body. Her family insists she was shot in the head.
“I want justice for my girl, my baby momma, the love of my life,” Rodriguez’s boyfriend, Rafeul Chowdhury, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Shortly after 3 p.m. on Sept. 27, an unnamed officer from the Long Beach Unified School District was driving in the area when he happened upon a physical dispute between Rodriguez and a 15-year-old girl who was walking from the school. Rodriguez is not currently a student at Millikan, authorities said.
The fracas reportedly began when Rodriguez got out of a gray sedan by a nearby shopping center and confronted the younger girl, according to a student who witnessed the incident. That’s when the officer, who Long Beach school officials said in a statement was “conducting safe passage for students” leaving the Millikan campus, happened upon the scene. The officer reportedly threatened to pepper spray the two, who then stopped fighting and walked away, according to Chowdhury. But when Rodriguez got back in the car, things took a sudden turn.
Video posted of the incident shows the officer approach the passenger side door of the gray sedan once the fight breaks up. As the car begins to pull away, the officer appears to fire two shots at the fleeing vehicle. Rodriguez was sitting in the front passenger seat, police said.
“Holy shit!” a bystander screams.
“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 said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast.
Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing the Rodriguez family, said the focus should be on the police officer who shot the 18-year-old as she was pulling away.
“The first priority is to get the guy arrested and off the street,” Carrillo told The Daily Beast. “He doesn't have any business carrying a badge or wearing a gun.”
Carrillo said he sent a letter to the California attorney general to investigate the shooting “because we think he should be arrested for murder or manslaughter.”
“This officer had no justification to use deadly force against Ms. Rodriguez because Ms. Rodriguez did not pose an imminent threat to the officer when she was shot by the officer,” states the letter, a copy of which Carrillo provided to The Daily Beast. “The actions of this officer constitute a serious violation of State and Federal constitutional rights.”
The hospital plans to disconnect Rodriguez from life support on Thursday afternoon, Carrillo said. But although doctors say Rodriguez shows no signs of brain activity, her family does not want the hospital to unplug the machines keeping her alive. A cousin told the Long Beach Post that Rodriguez, her boyfriend, and their 5-month-old son were in the process of moving to Kansas so the child could grow up in a better place. “She was smart, beautiful, loving and anyone who knew her knew how big her heart was, how full of life she was and how much she loved her family but most especially her son who was her entire life, pride and joy,” another one of Rodriguez’s cousins wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for medical expenses.
In an open letter to parents, Long Beach Unified School District superintendent Jill Baker on Tuesday said, “The opening of this school year, after a year and a half of most LBUSD students being at home for school, has been filled with many highs and some absolute lows. One of those lows occurred yesterday afternoon when an LBUSD school safety officer discharged his duty weapon while responding to an altercation at the corner of Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue. This incident has greatly impacted our school district community, and we are collectively holding the shooting victim in our thoughts.”
Long Beach school safety officers are armed, but are not accredited peace officers like regular cops are. Their official job description includes patrolling school sites “and adjacent areas to provide safety and protection for students, staff, equipment and property; assure compliance with applicable laws, codes, rules and regulations.”
Carrillo, the Rodriguez family lawyer, wants the officer who allegedly shot Rodriguez to be prosecuted. The officer involved has been placed on leave.