Long Beach, CA – The Los Angeles County district attorney announced charges against former Long Beach School Safety Officer Eddie Gonzalez on Wednesday for the fatal shooting of a passenger inside a car that fled from him.
The incident occurred just after 3 p.m. on Sept. 27 when then-Officer Gonzalez was driving in the area of Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue and saw a woman fighting with a 15-year-old girl on the sidewalk, MyNewsLA.com reported.
Officer Gonzalez, who worked as a school safety officer at nearby Millikan High School, stopped to intervene and broke up the fight.
The woman, later identified as 18-year-old Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez, her 20-year-old boyfriend, and his 16-year-old brother jumped into a silver sedan and attempted to flee the area, MyNewsLA.com reported.
Investigators determined that Rodriguez had started the fight with the 15-year-old girl and said the two were “known to each other.”
Cell phone videos of the shooting filmed by bystanders showed what happened when Officer Gonzalez approached the vehicle.
A thud can be heard as the officer slapped his hand on the car and yelled “hey!” at the occupants, the video showed.
Video showed he pointed his weapon at the driver and there was a screech of tires as the driver slammed on the gas.
The driver took a hard right and towards Officer Gonzalez as the officer was standing to the side of the front axle.
That’s when video showed the officer opened fire and shot in the direction of the vehicle twice.
I want to give the benefit of the doubt, but seems an unjustified use of force by #shooting to the back of the head by a SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER of 18 year old mom for leaving the scene after fight ends between Mona Rodriguez & another girl. @LongBeachMayor ? pic.twitter.com/koS5lj4SPx
— Tate the Cat (@Tate_TheCat) September 30, 2021
Rodriguez was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car and one of the bullets struck her in the head, KNBC reported.
She was declared brain dead at the hospital and her family took the 18-year-old mother of a five-month-old boy off life support and donated her organs on Oct. 5.
The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) said that Officer Gonzalez had violated district policy and terminated him, KNBC reported.
The school district said its use-of-force policy dictated that using a weapon should only be a last line of defense and that policy prohibited school safety officers from firing on a fleeing person or into a vehicle.
None of the people in the car that the officer shot at were students at Millikan High School, KNBC reported.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that he was charging now-former Officer Gonzalez with murder on Oct. 27, KCAL reported.
“We must hold accountable the people we have placed in positions of trust to protect us,” Gascón said. “That is especially true for the armed personnel we traditionally have relied upon to guard our children on their way to and from and at school.”
Gonzalez was taken into custody the same day and held on $2 million bail, KNBC reported.
His arraignment was scheduled for Friday, KCAL reported.
“This really impacted our community heavily,” Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said. “This is step in trying to bring some closure to this very unfortunate and impactful incident.”
The Long Beach Police Department was quick to distance itself from the district’s school safety officer (SSO) program, which is not part of the department, after the shooting.
While they do take the same California Peace Officer Standards and Training, school safety officers do not have the same powers as sworn police officers or sheriff’s deputies, the Long Beach Post reported.
“SSOs don’t investigate crimes,” LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou explained. “The police do that. SSOs do not arrest but can detain pending an investigation by law enforcement. Deadly force is allowed in self-defense or in defense of others to prevent death and great bodily injury.”
Shooting a fleeing suspect is legally a seizure, or arrest of that person, and therefore requires powers of arrest if the suspect doesn’t pose an immediate threat to life.
One Millikan High School employee told the Long Beach Post that it was not uncommon for school safety officers to patrol the area off-campus, just north of the high school, where the shooting occurred because that was the direction a large number of students went after school to get to a nearby bus station.
Gonzalez, 51, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and then worked as an abuse investigator for Time Warner Cable for 24 years before he was laid off, the Long Beach Post reported.
In 2015, he graduated from the Orange County Sheriff Department’s regional training academy as a reserve deputy in 2015.
He was named reserve deputy of the year in 2018, according to the Long Beach Post.
Gonzalez served as a fully-sworn officer with the Los Alamitos Police Department from Jan. 8, 2019 to April 8, 2019.
He joined the Sierra Madre Police Department in September 2019 but left the force 10 months later in July of 2020, the Long Beach Post reported.
Eftychiou said the school district had contacted all of Gonzalez’s previous law enforcement agencies when he was vetted for the job and that nothing in the background check disqualified him from becoming a school safety officer.