Long Beach school district officials fire safety officer after internal review of shooting

The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education has unanimously voted to fire the safety officer who opened fire last month on a moving car filled with young people, killing a female passenger.

The officer, Eddie F. Gonzalez, was terminated during a closed-session vote Wednesday.

During a news conference, Supt. Jill Baker said that officials believed the officer had violated the district’s use-of-force policy.

“We believe the decision to terminate this officer’s employment is warranted, justified and quite frankly, the right thing to do,” she said Wednesday.

Officials with the Long Beach Police Department said that Gonzalez was driving about a block away from Millikan High School on Sept. 27 when he saw two teenagers fighting on the sidewalk about 3:15 p.m. and stopped to intervene.

One of the teens, 18-year-old Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez, jumped into the passenger’s seat of a gray sedan and tried to leave, and the safety officer opened fire, police said. Video posted on social media appears to show the officer firing at least two shots at the car as it moves past him.

Rodriguez, the mother of a 5-month-old boy named Isael, died Tuesday after more than a week on life support, her family’s lawyers said in a statement.

No evidence has emerged that anyone involved in the fight was armed.

Officers are not permitted to fire at a moving vehicle and may fire only when reasonably necessary and justified under the circumstances, such as for self-defense and the protection of others, according to the Long Beach Unified safety office’s policy. It also bars shooting at fleeing suspects.

Police agencies across the nation have sought to restrict incidents of shooting at moving vehicles, which account for 16% of all fatal police uses of deadly force since 2015.

The school district is a “separate government entity” from the Long Beach Police Department, the city said in a statement, and Gonzalez was not employed by the city.

Gonzalez was hired by the school district in January and has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, according to spokesman Chris Eftychiou.

Los Alamitos city spokeswoman Chelsi Wilson confirmed that Gonzalez worked for the city from Jan. 8 to April 8, 2019, but declined to provide details about his departure. Gonzalez was also employed by the Sierra Madre Police Department from September 2019 to July 2020, department spokeswoman Laura Aguilar confirmed. She said the city “chose to separate from Officer Gonzalez” but would not provide additional information.

Luis Carrillo, one of the attorneys representing the Rodriguezes, has called on California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to open an independent investigation into the shooting. The Long Beach Police Department and Los Angeles County district attorney‘s office are conducting their own investigation.

In a letter to the attorney general, Carrillo said that Rodriguez did not pose an imminent threat to the officer and that the use of force was unjustified. He suggested the officer’s actions “meet the threshold for criminal charges,” including murder or manslaughter.

The Long Beach school district employs nine full-time and two part-time safety officers, as well as four supervisors. The incident was the first shooting involving a safety officer in the program’s 30-year existence, Eftychiou said.

The family’s lawyers, Luis and Michael Carrillo, said doctors and nurses on her floor at Long Beach Memorial Hospital gave Mona Rodriguez a “hero’s celebration” as she was taken to the organ donation operating room Tuesday afternoon.

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