Attorneys say they’ve reached a $13 million settlement in the case of an 18-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a Long Beach Unified school safety officer in 2021.
Mona Rodriguez was riding in the passenger seat of a car near Millikan High School when the officer opened fire on the vehicle and struck her in the head, according to a wrongful death lawsuit brought on behalf of her mother. Rodriguez is also survived by her son, who was 5 months old at the time of her death.
Her family’s attorneys announced the settlement during a press conference Tuesday morning.
“The settlement of this case is a historic moment,” said Arnoldo Casillas, an attorney for the Rodriguez family. “Not only is it historic in terms of its size, this is the largest settlement in a school district shooting ever in the United States.”
During the press conference, Rodriguez’s brothers described the pain of knowing her son will grow up without his mother.
“My nephew, seeing his face, seeing my sister in him, seeing how my nephew laughs and smiles, it gives me a bit of hope, but it … destroys me. It angers me,” Oscar Rodriguez said.
The Long Beach Unified School District declined to comment on the settlement other than to offer condolences to “everyone who was impacted by this terrible event.”
“The school district and its insurance carriers have been in negotiations on a settlement, but because we have not seen or ratified an agreement, we cannot discuss the details,” LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou said in an email. A court also must approve the final deal, according to Casillas.
Police say the shooting on Sept. 27, 2021, stemmed from a fight involving Mona Rodriguez and a 15-year-old girl.
School safety officer Eddie Gonzalez, who was driving in the area of Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue that day, saw the fight and pulled over, according to authorities.
Videos posted on social media show Gonzalez helping break up the fight and then walking up to a gray sedan that was stopped in a shopping center driveway about a block north of the campus.
Gonzalez can be seen standing by the car’s passenger-side front window when it lurches forward and closer to him at the same time, tires screeching. As the car pulls away, there’s the sound of gunshots.
Mona Rodriguez, who was a passenger in the car, was struck by the gunfire and was transported to a local hospital where she remained on life support for two days before being declared dead, according to authorities.
After the settlement was announced, Mona Rodriguez’s mother, Manuela Sahagun, said the money will never be able to replace “the kindness and love my daughter gave me.”
“[Gonzalez] didn’t just take my daughter’s life, he took all of our lives,” she said in Spanish.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Gonzalez was fired from his job as a school safety officer. The school district’s policy governing when its safety officers are allowed to use deadly force explicitly bars them from firing at moving vehicles or fleeing suspects.
Gonzalez was hired at LBUSD after having limited experience in law enforcement. He worked for Time Warner Cable for 24 years before being laid off and going through the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s academy. After working just a few months each at the Los Alamitos and Sierra Madre police departments, he was hired at LBUSD, according to records reviewed by the Long Beach Post.
Those short stints at each department should have raised red flags about Gonzalez’s ability to work in law enforcement, according to experts interviewed by the Post, but a spokesperson for the LBUSD said they found nothing in Gonzalez’s work history that disqualified him from the job.
Robin Perry, an attorney representing the Rodriguez family, said there needs to be accountability for the school district’s decision to employ Gonzalez.
“In my opinion the school security office is not run as a professional organization,” he said. “It appears to me that the school security office is run more like an old boys club.”
School safety officers are not full-fledged peace officers like those employed by police departments, but they do carry guns.
The lawsuit alleged LBUSD was negligent in training Gonzalez in de-escalation tactics set by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which LBUSD officials said in 2021 are the guidelines their officers follow. As a result of not being properly trained, Gonzalez overreacted when he fired into a moving car, according to the lawsuit.
Gonzalez is also facing criminal charges. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of second-degree murder and is currently free on bond. He is expected back in court for a pretrial hearing in June.
“This is just partial justice,” said Luis Carrillo, one of the attorneys representing Rodriguez’s family. “We want justice in the criminal court so that that man can never see the streets again, so that he can not harm anybody else in this community.”