Two young women were fighting in a parking lot Monday afternoon when a safety officer for a nearby Southern California high school pulled his car into the lot to see what was going on.
Shortly after he got out of his vehicle, several people believed to be involved in the physical altercation tried to speed away in a sedan, according to authorities. But as the car took off, the Long Beach Unified School District officer began shooting, according to a video of the incident posted to social media.
One of the women involved in the fight, Mona Rodriguez, 18, is now brain dead after the school safety officer fired his gun twice at the car and struck her in the back of the head, her family’s attorney told The Washington Post. Rodriguez, the mother of a 5-month-old boy, was expected to be taken off life support on Thursday afternoon.
“The officer took it upon himself to whip out his gun and start shooting at a moving vehicle,” Michael Carrillo, the attorney for Rodriguez’s family, told The Post. “There’s absolutely no justification for what he did.”
Her family and loved ones are calling for justice against the officer, who has not been arrested nor publicly identified by police. Chris Eftychiou, a spokesperson with the Long Beach Unified School District, told The Post that the officer is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. Long Beach Police Department spokesman Brandon Fahey said the agency is leading the investigation, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is conducting its own independent probe.
“I just want him in jail, bro,” Rafeul Chowdhury, 20, Rodriguez’s boyfriend and the father of the couple’s son, said in a news conference Wednesday. “I want him in jail for what he did to my girlfriend. She did not deserve it.” Chowdhury, who was driving the car at the time of the shooting, added, “I don’t know what to do with my 5-month-old son.”
Superintendent Jill Baker did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday. In a statement Tuesday, Baker said she had a “heavy heart” over the shooting that took place near Millikan High School. She also defended the training of the school safety officers in a district that makes it standard practice for them to carry firearms.
“Our school safety officers are hired to protect the physical safety of our staff and students on and around campuses. They are highly trained and held accountable to the established standards in their profession,” she said. “Those standards will be used to assess the incident that occurred.”
Carrillo said a shooting that’s left an 18-year-old mother brain dead is more than enough evidence of how “having armed school safety officers at a high school is just a bad idea.”
“Clearly, the training was improper,” he said. “If he was trained properly, he would not have shot into a moving vehicle as it was driving off.”
The shooting comes amid a period in which billions of dollars have already been spent hardening public schools in an attempt to make students safer from gun violence. The debate over how to make the nation’s schools safer against mass shootings, and whether safety officers should be armed, has gone on for years — even as researchers have found no evidence that the increased measures work.
The use of school safety officers has been met with significant pushback following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the push for police reform in some parts of the country. The city of Long Beach even vowed to work with the school district to “reduce the use of school police and review alternative models” in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder. School systems in Los Angeles and Oakland have already moved to reduce or eliminate the use of school police.
Police told The Post that Rodriguez was involved in a fight with a 15-year-old woman in a street near Millikan High School. It’s believed the two know each other and that Rodriguez initiated the encounter, police said, but it’s unclear what prompted the physical altercation.
There’s no evidence of either woman being armed at the time of the fight, according to authorities. Police have not publicly identified the 20-year-old and 16-year-old men who they say were also involved, but Chowdhury and his brother, Shahriear, have said they were there. Their level of participation remains under investigation, police said.
At around 3 p.m., the officer left his vehicle at the area of Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue in response to the scuffle. When Rodriguez, Chowdhury and his brother attempted to flee from the official in a sedan, “the school safety officer approached the vehicle,” police said.
Seconds after the car sped off and nearly hit the officer, he reached for his gun and fired two shots at the vehicle. Bystanders on the video can be heard gasping at the shooting, and a woman is screaming in terror in the immediate aftermath.
“Oh that was a real gun?!” one man said, according to the video. “That was a real gun!”
A separate video taken of the incident has one person reacting in real time to the officer pulling out his gun: “No! Get down!”
When police responded to the incident a few minutes later, officers found that Rodriguez had been shot. Shahriear Chowdhury, who was sitting in the rear passenger seat, said at a news conference that two bullets went through the car.
“One of the bullets went through the door, I could have been shot in the rib,” he said. “The other went through the window where it got Mona.”
Long Beach police soon determined that the school safety officer “had discharged their firearm, striking a female adult in the upper body,” Fahey told The Post. Long Beach Fire Department responded to the scene and soon transported Rodriguez to a hospital in critical condition.
The family was notified Wednesday by doctors at Long Beach Medical Center that Rodriguez was brain dead and would be removed from life support within 24 hours, Carrillo said. Oscar Rodriguez, Mona’s brother, told reporters that it should be the family’s decision whether to stop life support.
“They’re trying to take my sister away,” he said at a news conference. “At first they told me that I would be able to make the decision, and now they’re taking that away from me.”
In a statement, a hospital spokesperson said privacy laws prohibit officials from releasing any patient information. However, the representative noted that under California law, two physicians must independently conclude that a patient has suffered a permanent loss of brain function with no possibility of recovery. At that time, relatives are notified and “provided a period of accommodation to afford the family time to grieve and gather loved ones.”
A GoFundMe created by Rodriguez’s family to help with funeral and legal expenses notes the love she had for her young son, Isael. She’s remembered by her family as “smart, beautiful, loving.”
“We are all heartbroken and in pain,” the fundraiser says. “Never did we imagine we would loose (sic) her like this or so soon. [S]he had her entire life ahead of her and because of a careless act done by a school safety guard, a 5-month-old baby boy was left without a mother.”
The family is pushing for criminal charges to be brought against the unidentified school safety officer, and they are expected to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against him and the school district, Carrillo said. The attorney marveled at the strength of Rodriguez’s family this week.
“They haven’t left her bedside,” he said.