Ex-school safety officer appears in court to face murder charge in young mother’s death

A former Long Beach Unified school safety officer appeared in court Friday to be arraigned on a charge that he murdered 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez when he fired into a car speeding away from the scene of a fight near Millikan High School.

Eddie F. Gonzalez, 51, wore a blue button-down shirt and jeans with his hands cuffed in front of him for his initial court appearance. He did not enter a plea, instead agreeing to postpone the arraignment until December.

Judge Tomson Ong ordered Gonzalez held on $2 million bail before sheriff’s deputies led him out of the Long Beach courtroom. He’s been in custody since Long Beach police arrested him Wednesday on suspicion of a single count of second-degree murder filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Mona Rodriguez. Courtesy her family.

Gonzalez’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, declined to comment, saying he was still reviewing the evidence prosecutors had turned over to him.

The case against Gonzalez is the “first step for justice and hopefully our healing process,” Mona Rodriguez’s brother Oscar Rodriguez said after the charges were announced Wednesday.

The Rodriguez family has criticized the speed at which authorities acted. It shouldn’t have taken a month to file charges and arrest Gonzalez when many of the facts were plainly apparent from day one, family attorney Luis Carrillo said.

Manuela Sahagun, mother of 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez, holds Mona’s brother, Oscar Rodriguez, at a press conference outside Long Beach Memorial Medical Center Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

Gonzalez shot Mona Rodriguez on the afternoon of Sept. 27 after he helped break up a fight between her and a 15-year-old girl near Millikan, according to police. They say Mona Rodriguez initiated the confrontation with the girl, whom she knew. Her boyfriend, Rafeul Chowdhury, and his 16-year-old brother were also allegedly involved in the altercation. Chowdhury’s attorney said they were trying to break up the fight, not participating in it.

Gonzalez was patrolling in the area, and when he intervened, the trio fled to a nearby sedan. As Chowdhury tried to drive away, Gonzalez fired, with at least one shot that hit Mona Rodriguez, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, according to authorities.

Videos of the incident almost immediately sparked outrage, showing the car speeding past Gonzalez, who then appears to open fire once the car is moving away from him. Mona Rodriguez was unarmed, according to the District Attorney’s office, and police have not suggested anyone else in the car had a weapon.

The video only shows a part of a complex series of events, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday. But, at this point, the only person prosecutors have chosen to charge with a crime is Gonzalez, Gascón said.

“Rafi Chowdhury is tremendously gratified by the District Attorney’s decision to prosecute this school safety officer,” Chowdhury’s attorney, Robin Perry, said in a statement. Chowdhury has a 6-month-old son with Mona Rodriguez.

“Because of the criminal actions of this individual, the child will not grow up with a loving intact family,” the statement said.

Perry acknowledged there’s been a tide of questions on social media about whether Chowdhury, who was driving the car, could face any culpability in his girlfriend’s death. But the attorney said, “There’s not a circumstance that we can imagine that he committed any criminal act.”

Chowdhury, Perry said, has cooperated with police from day one and continues to do so.

Rafeul Chowdhury, the boyfriend of Mona Rodriguez, sits near the car where she was shot on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. Photo by Stephen Carr.

The Long Beach Unified School District said Gonzalez’s decision to shoot clearly violated district policy, which bars safety officers from firing at moving vehicles or at anyone fleeing. The district fired Gonzalez on Oct. 6.

School safety officers are not police officers, but they do carry guns and work closely with the local police force. They are employed by the school district.

Gonzalez, however, did previously work as a police officer. After a long career working for a cable company, the city of Los Alamitos hired him as a police officer in January 2019. He worked there for only about three months before getting a job as an officer at the Sierra Madre police department in September 2019. His employment there also ended quickly, in July 2020, according to his now-deleted LinkedIn.

Working those short stints at small police departments before becoming a school safety officer is an odd career trajectory that could have raised red flags about Gonzalez, according to police experts.

An LBUSD spokesman said nothing in Gonzalez’s employment history disqualified him from the job. He’d worked for LBUSD for less than a year before the shooting.

In a statement reacting to the murder charge Wednesday, the LBUSD said “we again extend our sincerest condolences to everyone who has been impacted, especially the family, friends and loved ones” of Mona Rodriguez.

Staff writer Kelly Puente contributed to this report.

What are school safety officers and when do they have authority to shoot people?

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.
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