Family of woman shot by school safety officer plans to take her off life support Friday, lawyer says

An 18-year-old woman who was shot in the head by a Long Beach Unified school safety officer is expected to be taken off life support Friday, her family’s lawyer said today.

Mona Rodriguez, a mother of a 5-month-old son, has been on life support at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center since Monday when the officer shot her after a fight near Millikan High School in East Long Beach.

Her family’s lawyer, Luis Carrillo, said doctors have declared her brain dead but the family had been holding on to hope that she would pull through. The family has now made the tough decision to take her off life support, he said.

Mona Rodriguez. Courtesy GoFundMe.

In an incident that made national news, Rodriguez was shot while sitting in the front passenger seat of a car that sped away from a school safety officer.

Police said Rodriguez, her 20-year-old boyfriend and a 16-year-old boy had been involved in a fight with a 15-year-old girl near the school and were trying to flee. Police said Rodriguez had initiated the altercation with the 15-year-old girl, whom she knew, but the motive for the altercation was unknown.

Videos posted on social media show the school safety officer 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. The officer 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 appears to be the sound of gunshots.

Carrillo said Rodriguez and the two males were unarmed and in a vehicle driving away when the officer fired. He is asking the Los Angeles District Attorney and the State Attorney General to criminally prosecute the officer. The Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office are investigating the incident.

School safety officers are employed by the Long Beach Unified School District. They are not full-fledged peace officers like those employed by police departments, but they do carry guns and work closely with Long Beach police. Unlike police officers, they do not investigate crimes or arrest people.

The school district has not yet publicly provided the officer’s name, but Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Eftychiou on Thursday said the district is working to release the employee’s name and his length of service.

“We have notified the employee’s union to give them an opportunity to object, and we hope to have an answer by tomorrow,” he wrote in an email. 

Long Beach Unified employs nine full-time school safety officers, two part-time officers and four supervisors.

The district has declined to publicly release its school safety officer training materials because they contain “tactical information,” but on Thursday it did release a portion of its Office of School Safety and Emergency Preparedness policy that covers when the officers should use force.

It says school safety officers should only use lethal force—including firing their weapons—in self-defense or to prevent death or serious bodily injury of another person.

A bullet hole in a car near Millikan High School on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. Photo by Stephen Carr.

The policy specifically states officers are not allowed to fire their weapons at a fleeing person or at a moving vehicle. In addition, the policy says they shall not fire through a vehicle window unless “circumstances clearly warrant the use of a firearm as a final means of defense.”

Eftychiou said he could not answer questions about whether the school district has begun investigating whether the officer’s actions violated their policy—instead deferring to law enforcement.

Eftychiou said the officer in this case was qualified to carry a weapon.

To be certified to have a firearm, a school safety officer must qualify annually in two courses, a “50-round course” and a “combat course,” through the Long Beach Police Department’s training academy at Long Beach Towne Center, Eftychiou said. School safety officers are also required to complete a 664-hour POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) basic academy, which includes firearms training.

Carrillo said he believes the incident is an egregious violation of policy.

“It’s more than a violation of school district policy,” he said. “What it is is totally unjustified use of deadly force against a young woman, and this officer should not only be fired but he should be arrested to face charges of murder or voluntary manslaughter.”

Rafeul Chowdhury sits on the curb shortly after a shooting Monday where his girlfriend was wounded by a school safety officer near Millikan High School. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Eftychiou said the district is “carefully reviewing multiple aspects” while cooperating with the Long Beach Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office in the investigation.

Until Monday’s incident, the district had not had a school safety officer-involved shooting in the more than 30-year history of the School Safety Office, according to Eftychiou.

“The only other instance of a firearm discharge was when a school safety officer accidentally discharged their weapon on an empty campus during a training exercise in 2019,” he said.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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